Would you like statins with that burger?
A study from researchers at Imperial College London seriously suggests that it may be wise for fast food outlets to provide statin drugs free of charge with the condiments, so that customers can neutralize the heart disease dangers of fatty food. Statins are a class of drugs that can reduce the amount of "LDL" cholesterol in the blood. Some data suggests that this reduction is accompanied by a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke.
Dr Darrel Francis and colleagues state in their paper published in the American Journal of Cardiology, that the reduction in cardiovascular risk offered by a statin would be enough to offset the increase in heart attack risk from eating a cheeseburger and a milkshake.
Dr Francis, who is from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, is the senior author of the study.
"Statins don't cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries," said Dr Francis. "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."
Simvastatin, one of this popular class of drugs, is already available in the UK at low doses (10mg) without a prescription, over the counter at pharmacies. Other statins are, so far, only available by prescription due, in part, because of possible side effects and drug interactions which must be assessed prior to use. However, the cost of these drugs has fallen sharply in recent years from approximately £40 (US$60) per month to around £1.50 (US$2.50) per month in the UK.
"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," said Dr Francis. “Everybody knows that fast food is bad for you, but people continue to eat it because it tastes good. 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.”
The National Heart and Lung Institute researchers note that studies need to be conducted to assess the potential risks of allowing people to take statins freely, without medical supervision or prescription. They further recommend a warning on packets of the drug emphasizing that no tablet can substitute for a healthy diet, and advising people to consult their doctor for dietary advice.
“Statins have among the best safety profiles of any medication” according to the Imperial College release, but a review of several papers on statins suggest this is not quite true. At the very least the suggestion that statins should be freely available, and so possibly ingested by those who’s blood lipid profiles would not be improved by their use, with the possible and sometimes serious side effects that accompany their use, is pretty questionable public health policy.