Statins 'may cause loss of memory and depression'
Cholesterol-lowering pills taken by millions of Britons may cause memory loss and depression, researchers warn.
They say not enough is known about the level of harm posed by statins, prescribed to prevent heart disease and strokes.
Leading doctors say that the drugs should only be taken by patients for whom the benefits of the drug outweigh any potential risks.
Dangerous: Researchers warn that unless a patient is at high risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, statins may cause more harm than good
More than seven million people in Britain now take statins – as many as one in three adults over the age of 40.
They are extremely effective in lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in the blood that clogs up arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Many people over the age of 45 are routinely prescribed statins by their GPs if they have slightly high blood pressure or cholesterol.
In addition low-dose pills are increasingly bought over the counter without a prescription. Although they have been proven to be extremely effective – saving up to 10,000 lives a year – researchers warn that not enough is known about their risks.
They warn statins should only be prescribed to those with heart disease, or who have suffered the condition in the past. Researchers warn that unless a patient is at high risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, statins may cause more harm than good.
The study, published in the Cochrane Library, which reviews drug trials, also points out that the vast majority of trials have been carried out by drugs companies who may play-down any possible risks. Some patients taking statins have suffered from short-term memory loss, depression and mood swings.
Previous studies have also linked the medication to a greater risk of liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage known as myopathy.
The researchers examined data from 14 drugs trials involving 34,000 patients.
They found that although the drugs did prevent heart attacks and strokes, there was not enough evidence to prescribe them to patients with no previous history of heart disease.
Professor Shah Ebrahim, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: ‘When you put the evidence together you certainly find it supports the use of statins. But we found that evidence of potential harm is not being taken seriously.
‘The adverse effects are not included in the trials.’
Lead researcher Dr Fiona Taylor, added: ‘The decision to prescribe statins in this group [who have no history of heart disease] should not be taken lightly.’
Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This systematic review echoes what we already know – that statins have huge benefits for people with heart and circulatory disease, or those who are high risk – they help to reduce the risk of heart disease including heart attacks.
‘It is still unclear whether statins provide any real benefits for people without heart and circulatory disease and who are at low risk.’
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