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Cheeseburger, Fries and a Side of Statins

AA049755Fast 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, 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.”

In Britain, 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 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 emphasise that no tablet can substitute for a healthy diet, and advise people to consult their doctor for more advice.

(Source: Imperial College London)

3 comments

  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow us to announce a new facet of one stop shopping.

    Gone are the days when a doctor will advise you to make life style changes to improve your health, instead you will be able to order your Lipitor with a side of Burger and Fries!

    Talk about a new marketing ploy! Drug reps will now be spending time at your favourite fast food chains and take-away stores, pushing their ‘quick fix’ drugs to medically uneducated burger ‘flippers’ and salt shaker fillers.

    No longer will you have to take responsibility for the way you treat your body. No longer will you be held accountable for the damage and destruction happening within every cell membrane.

  2. This is utterly bonkers. The real-world data on statins is showing them to *not* be efficacious; they also have significant health risks and require regular blood monitoring. Simply lowering the dose doesn’t magically render them benign.

    And hasn’t the idea that we can eat garbage, lay around, and take pills to make up for it all been pretty thoroughly discredited by now? As a concept it never passed the smell test to begin with, but oh we wanted so badly for it to be true!

    The body is not a clockwork assemblage of gears and wires. It’s incredibly complex and we understand so little about it.

  3. Humanity has gone insane. Truly, anyone with a little common sense left would realize how absurd this “study” really is.

    Of course it was funded by drug companies and the whole notion that you can eat like crap and then just take a drug to supposedly offset the detrimental effects is insane.

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