Free Statins With Fast Food Could
Neutralize Heart Risk
Research Media Officer (Medicine)
Imperial College London
August 12, 2010
Imperial researchers suggest that cholesterol-lowering drugs
could be provided alongside ketchup and salt.
Fast food outlets could provide
statin drugs free of charge so
that customers can neutralize 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,
"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
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
Statins have among the best safety profiles of any medication.
very small proportion of regular statin users experience
significant side effects, with problems in the liver and kidneys
reported in between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 people.
"Everybody knows that fast food is bad for you, but people
continue to eat it because it tastes good," Dr Francis added.
"We're genetically programmed to prefer high-calorie foods, and
sadly fast food chains will continue to sell unhealthy foods
because it earns them a living.
"It makes sense to make risk-reducing supplements available just
as easily as the unhealthy condiments that are provided free of
charge. It would cost less than 5p per customer - not much
different to a sachet of ketchup.
"When people engage in risky
behaviors like driving or smoking,
they're encouraged to take measures that minimize their risk,
like wearing a seatbelt or choosing cigarettes with filters.
Taking a statin is a rational way of lowering some of the risks
of eating a fatty meal."
Studies have shown a clear link between total fat intake and
blood cholesterol, which is strongly linked to heart disease.
Recent evidence suggests that trans fats, which are found in
high levels in fast food, are the component of the Western diet
that is most dangerous in terms of heart disease risk.
Dr Francis and his colleagues used data from a previous large
cohort study to quantify how a person's heart attack risk
increases with their daily intake of total fat and trans fat. He
compared this with the decrease in risk from various statins,
based on a meta-analysis of seven randomized controlled trials.
The results showed that most statin regimes are able to
compensate for the relative risk increase from eating a
cheeseburger and a small milkshake.
The researchers note that studies should be conducted to assess
the potential risks of allowing people to take statins freely,
without medical supervision.
They suggest that a warning on the
packet should emphasize that no tablet can substitute for a
healthy diet, and advise people to consult their doctor for more