benefits of statins
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An international research team assessed studies on the benefits of statins in conditions other than cardiovascular disease.

Statins are a group of drugs that have been used since the late 1980s to reduce blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke or “hardening of the arteries”). The benefits of statins in cardiovascular disease are well-established by convincing research evidence and expert consensus. In the USA alone, around 38.6 million people (approximately 12% of the population) were using statins in 2011-2012 and worldwide prescriptions continue to grow.

Widespread use of statins led to an interest in possible benefits for non-heart-related issues

With such widespread use, there has been a lot of interest in whether statins may have beneficial health effects beyond heart disease. Some research has suggested that statins could be helpful in the treatment of cancer, dementia and kidney disease. A group of international experts assessed the currently available evidence on the non-cardiovascular benefits of statins. They recently published their review in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers searched the medical research literature and identified 256 studies investigating 278 non-cardiovascular benefits of statins. They assessed the credibility of each study based on several factors including the amount of evidence, the statistical significance of results and the size of the study. They then classified the studies into four credibility groups: convincing; highly suggestive; suggestive, and weak.

Extensive review produced little evidence of the benefits of statins for non-heart-related conditions

In this extensive review, the researchers found little convincing evidence that statins had any benefits in the 278 non-cardiovascular outcomes assessed.

Amongst observational studies, they found only two with “highly suggestive” associations – decreased cancer mortality in patients taking statins before cancer diagnosis and reduced attacks in patients with the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Amongst randomized controlled trials there was only one study with high credibility. This study observed lower all-cause mortality in patients with chronic kidney disease taking statins.

Other potential benefits of statins identified included lowering risks of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, kidney injury and infection – but research evidence for these effects was inconclusive.

The researchers concluded that as yet there is little convincing evidence of non-cardiovascular benefits of statins. In view of this, they recommend that the current prescribing guidelines for statins should remain unchanged.

Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer

Reference: He Y, Li X, Gasevic D, et al. Statins and multiple noncardiovascular outcomes. Ann Intern Med 2018;169:543-553. Doi:10.7326/M18-0808.

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