Statins improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and minimise heart stress
Taking statins lowers heart volume by 2.4%, which boosts patient health
Statins increase nitric oxide production, leading to wider blood vessels
Researcher said statin guidelines should be renewed to ensure people benefit
Cholesterol-busting statins boost heart health and make it work more effectively, according to new research.
The study shows the controversial pills – which lower so-called ‘bad cholesterol’ – also reduce the thickness and volume of the heart, helping to prevent heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, the study found.
Results suggest statins also improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and minimise stress on the heart.
Study author Dr Nay Aung, from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘People using statins were less likely to have a thickened heart muscle and less likely to have a large heart chamber.
‘Having a thick, large heart is a strong predictor of future heart attack, heart failure or stroke and taking statins appears to reverse the negative changes in the heart which, in turn, could lower the risk of adverse outcomes.’
WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?
Statins have proven controversial in the past as some argue their mechanism of lowering so-called ‘bad cholesterol’ is flawed.
In a study by Harvard Medical School in November 2016, authors wrote: ‘A lack of an association between LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in those over 60 years from a recent systematic review suggests that the conventional cholesterol hypothesis is fundamentally flawed.’
Some have also accused statins’ side effects – namely muscle pain and liver damage – of outweighing any benefits.
London-based cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra added: ‘Decades of misinformation on cholesterol and the gross exaggeration of statin benefits with downplaying of side effects has likely led to the overmedication of millions.’
Yet, last month, Professor Peter Sever from Imperial College London, said tens of thousands of people die every year because claims about statins’ side effects left them too afraid to take the potentially life-saving drugs.
He also called on health officials to remove information about adverse effects from the pills’ packaging, arguing there is insufficient evidence supporting statins being responsible for patients’ perceived muscle pain.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London investigated the link between statins and heart health in a study, known as the UK Biobank, of 4,622 people without heart disease.
The researchers carried out MRI scans on the participants’ hearts to measure their structure and function.
Medical records and questionnaires revealed 17 per cent of participants were prescribed statins. Such individuals were older, had a higher BMI and blood pressure, and were more likely to have diabetes and hypertension.
The results, presented at the annual European Society of Cardiology meeting, revealed those taking statins had a 2.4 per cent lower heart volume.
Dr Aung said: ‘People using statins were less likely to have a thickened heart muscle and less likely to have a large heart chamber.
‘Having a thick, large heart is a strong predictor of future heart attack, heart failure or stroke and taking statins appears to reverse the negative changes in the heart which, in turn, could lower the risk of adverse outcomes.
‘It is important to note that in our study, the people taking statins were at higher risk of having heart problems than those not using statins yet they still had positive heart remodelling compared to the healthier control group.’
Statins were also found to increase nitric oxide production, leading to blood vessel widening, which in turn improved blood flow, lowered blood pressure and reduced stress on the heart.
Dr Aung said: ‘There are clear guidelines on who should receive statins.
‘There is debate about whether we should lower the bar and the question is when do you stop.
‘What we found is that for patients already taking statins, there are beneficial effects beyond cholesterol lowering and that’s a good thing.
‘But instead of a blanket prescription we need to identify people most likely to benefit – i.e. personalised medicine.
He said: ‘A dual approach should be considered to identify people who will benefit most from statins.
‘That means looking at not only clinical risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure, but also genetic factors which can predict individuals’ response to statins.
‘This is an area of growing interest and one that we are also investigating in our lab with our collaborators.’
Statins may be offered to patients who have recently been diagnosed with a form of heart disease, or if they have a personal or family history that suggests they are likely to develop the disease in the next 10 years and lifestyle changes have been ineffective.
Commenting on the study, Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: ‘We know that statins are effective at lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.
‘By using the power of the large-scale imaging studies from the UK Biobank, this study indicates that statins may have a direct effect on the heart’s structure that we haven’t been able to detect until now. But we need more research to confirm this finding and understand the mechanisms involved.’