Millions of people in the United States take statins every day to lower their cholesterol and to help keep them from developing a number of cardiovascular diseases. However, a new study suggests that taking statins woos users into a false sense of security because many believe they can take their medication and still eat an unhealthy diet and not exercise, which simply is not true.
Statins are a class of medications that work to block the action of a cholesterol making chemical called HMG-CoA found in the liver, this in turn helps lower a patient’s cholesterol. Statins also help lower the risk of chest pain, known as angina, stroke, and heart attack by reducing blood cholesterol levels.
There are numerous types of statins available with a variety of potency levels and while the drugs work to lower a patient’s cholesterol, it is important that they eat a proper diet and maintain a regular routine of physical activity. If patients overindulge in unhealthy foods and stop exercising, they will end up reducing the benefit and effectiveness of the statin, which means it will not work as well to lower their cholesterol.
In the new study, published online Thursday at JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reviewed 10 years of data obtained from government health surveys between the years of 1990 to 2010. The data involved nearly 28,000 adults who were 20 years of age or older. Over the 10-year period, statin use steadily increased. In the first year, eight percent of the people were using statins, but by the tenth year 17 percent of the people were using statins.
Study findings suggest that statin use woos users into a false sense of security and allows them to believe they can pig out on unhealthy foods and get lazy about exercising. Study results also showed that both calorie and fat levels increased in statin users across the 10-year period. Researchers believe this indicates that many patients are foregoing a heart-healthy diet and are not exercising like they should because they are under the false assumption that the statin will do all the work for them and that they can eat whatever they choose and lead sedentary lifestyles.
Dr. Rita Redberg, JAMA editor said the study results have raised concerns among medical professionals that there is a “potential moral hazard” of using statins because patients seem to think the statins will make up for poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. Even though statins may be successful at keeping cholesterol levels down, if patients stop exercising and eat poorly, they could still have problems with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses.
Throughout the 10-year study period, the number of diabetes cases increased from 22 percent in the first year to 29 percent in the last year. Senior author and internist and researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles, Dr. Martin Shapiro noted that patients using statins should be monitoring their diet; however, study results suggest they are not. It is as though the patients are relying on the statin to lower their cholesterol and no longer feel the need to eat healthy and make sure they get the proper amount of exercise.
While the study did not prove that statin use is responsible for wooing users into a false sense of security, the results have caused researchers to question the connection between statin use and the fact that patients have gotten lazy about diet and exercise. In addition, researchers are considering what the long-term effects of such behavior will be and what impact it will have on the patient’s overall health.
By Donna W. Martin