Should middle-aged people with high cholesterol take statins?

Should middle-aged people with high cholesterol take statins?

Middle-aged people with high cholesterol should take statins even if they are a healthy weight and have no family history of heart disease, new study finds

  • Levels of 100-to-159 mg per deciliter (dL) raise the risk of heart disease deaths
  • This is in people in their 40s with no other risks, such as smoking or obesity
  • A level of 160 mg/dL raises a person’s risk of heart-disease death by up to 90%
  • Compared to those with a LDL reading under 100 mg/dL – 60 mg/dL is optimal
  • Experts claim everyone should exercise, be a healthy weight and stop smoking
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Middle-aged people with high cholesterol should take statins even if they have no other risk factors for heart disease, a study suggests. 

‘Low risk’ people in their 40s with high levels of LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, were at greater risk of dying from heart disease over the next 30 years.

Even those with only slightly raised levels – between 100-to-159 mg per deciliter (dL) – were up to 40 per cent more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.

University of Texas Southwestern researchers found this increased to around 80 per cent for those with high LDL cholesterol levels (160 mg/dL).

The findings remained true for patients even if they were a healthy weight and had no family history of the disease. The optimal LDL cholesterol reading is 60 mg/dL. 

The trial opens up the controversial statins debate, with some experts arguing the cholesterol-lowering drugs should be more broadly prescribed.

However, others claim the cheap pills are being unnecessarily ‘medicalised’ and offer no medical benefit.

New research suggests middle-aged people with high cholesterol should take statins (stock)

Lead author Dr Shuaib Abdullah, from the University of Texas Southwestern, said: ‘Those with low risk should pursue lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to achieve LDLs levels as low as possible, preferably under 100 mg/dL.

‘Limiting saturated fat intake, maintaining a healthy weight, discontinuing tobacco use and increasing aerobic exercise should apply to everyone.’

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A handful of walnuts a day may prevent heart disease and bowel cancer, research suggested in May 2018.

Eating just a third of a cup of walnuts for six weeks significantly reduces the production of excess bile acids, as well as lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, a study found.

Previous research has linked such bile acids to bowel cancer, while lower cholesterol levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

Researchers believe walnuts’ high-fibre content encourages the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which benefits people’s heart and colon health.

The scientists also found that despite walnuts being relatively high in calories, with around 28 per nut, only 80 per cent of them are absorbed, with gut bacteria using up the remaining 20 per cent.

Results further suggest people who eat a handful of walnuts a day produce less secondary bile acids, which are made in the bowel rather than the liver like their primary counterparts.

Lead author Professor Hannah Holscher, from the University of Illinois, said: ‘Secondary bile acids have been shown to be higher in individuals with higher rates of colorectal cancer.

‘Secondary bile acids can be damaging to cells within the GI tract and microbes make those secondary bile acids.

‘If we can reduce secondary bile acids in the gut, it may also help with human health.’

How the research was carried out  

The researchers analysed 36,375 seemingly healthy people, who were followed for 27 years.

The participants had an average age of 42 at the start of the study, with 72 percent being male. 

At the beginning of the investigation, the participants’ good, known as HDL, and bad, or LDL, cholesterol levels were measured. 

Over the 27 years, 1,086 of the participants died due to events such as stroke, while 598 passed away from other heart-disease related incidences. 

‘High cholesterol means there will be a burden of cardiovascular disease’

Results suggest LDL readings of 100-to-159 mg/dL raise a person’s risk of a heart disease-related death by between 30 and 40 percent compared to levels under 100 mg/dL.

Those with LDL reading of 160 mg/dL or above are 70-to-90 percent more likely to pass away due to heart disease. 

Dr Abdullah said: ‘Our study demonstrates that having a low 10-year estimated cardiovascular disease risk does not eliminate the risk posed by elevated LDL over the course of a lifetime.’

Speaking of the findings, Dr Robert Eckel, from the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘High cholesterol at younger ages means there will be a greater burden of cardiovascular disease as these individuals age.

The statins divide 

This comes after research released in July 2017 suggested statins should be prescribed to all men over 60 and women older than 75.

The study claims almost 12 million adults in England ought to take the pills, which lower cholesterol, to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Yet, 6.3 million are not using the drugs even though they are considered to be at a high risk.

However, on the same day of the research’s release, the Royal College of GPs warned statins are being ‘needlessly doled out’ and called for an end to the ‘blanket prescription’, arguing otherwise healthy people are being unnecessarily ‘medicalised’.

The body added that if 100 people with a 10 percent heart disease risk within 10 years took the cholesterol-lowering drugs, as recommended by NICE, only four would be protected against the condition.

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