Fast food outlets could provide statin drugs free of charge so that customers can neutralise the heart disease dangers of fatty food, researchers at Imperial College London suggest in a new study published this week.
Statins reduce the amount of unhealthy "LDL" cholesterol in the blood. A wealth of trial data has proven them to be highly effective at lowering a person's heart attack risk.
In a paper published in the Sunday 15 August issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, Dr Darrel Francis and colleagues calculate that the reduction in cardiovascular risk offered by a statin is enough to offset the increase in heart attack risk from eating a cheeseburger and a milkshake.
Dr Francis, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who is the senior author of the study, said: "Statins don't cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. It's better to avoid fatty food altogether. But we've worked out that in terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it."
One statin, simvastatin, is already available in low doses (10mg) over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription. Other statins are so far only prescribed by doctors, and limited by cost to patients at particular risk of heart attack or stroke. However, the cost of the tablets has fallen sharply in recent years (from ~40/month to ~1.50/month), such that the cost to the NHS of seeing a doctor is much greater than the cost of the tablet.
"It's ironic that people are free to take as many unhealthy condiments in fast food outlets as they like, but statins, which are beneficial to heart health, have to be prescribed," Dr Francis said.
Statins have among the best safety profiles of any medication. A very small proportion of regular statin users experience significant side effects, with problems in the li
|Contact: Sam Wong|
Imperial College London