Cholesterol is a large contributing factor to heart disease, as it causes arteries to become stiffer and narrow, which puts added stress on the heart. Cholesterol can be lowered through lifestyle habits or with a medication known as statins.
Although statins are effective at reducing cholesterol, they can also lead to unwanted side effects.
In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Australian scientist Maryanne Demasi claimed that many patients are being misled about the benefits of statins and used raw data to demonstrate statins efficiency and safety.
Thousands of people are on statins, making it one of the most prescribed drugs. Some doctors have even tried to prescribe adults over the age of 60 statins, regardless if there is a true need or not, as a preventative measure of heart disease.
To determine if a person requires statins or not, a doctor will often recommend a cholesterol blood test which looks at a person’s LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. High levels of bad cholesterol—LDL and triglycerides—often results in a prescription of statins. Some suggest that this test alone isn’t enough to prescribe statins.
Although it is suggested that high levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, this doesn’t always hold true. For example, some people with extremely low levels of LDL cholesterol are at risk for heart disease yet go untreated. Therefore, there is a push toward measuring all levels of cholesterol to get a better image of whether a person is at risk for heart disease.
To improve diagnosis and lower prescriptions of statins, researchers developed another test that measures apolipoprotein B100 (ApoB), which is a protein that is attached to LDL particles. This allows doctors to count exactly how many LDL particles are present. ApoB has been shown to be a far superior measurement when predicting heart disease.
Unfortunately, testing for ApoB isn’t often used due to its cost. Doctors in Canada run this test but those in the UK do not.
To improve heart disease diagnosis and prevent unnecessary prescribing of statins, the ApoB test should be more widely integrated into cholesterol testing.
If you are currently taking statins you should not stop them unless advised by your doctor. If you are concerned about side effects of them or your risk of heart disease also speak to your doctor.
Related: Cholesterol-lowering statins may disrupt muscle cell function, causing muscle pain, stiffness, and cramps