Why risk statins when you can eat yourself better?

Research shows a change in diet is twice as effective as medication for heart conditions


Statins have always been a bone of contention within the medical community.

There is no doubt that they can have a beneficial effect on patients who have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular conditions.

It has been their use as a preventative measure with patients who have been identified as ‘at risk’ which has caused the controversy.

Despite elaborate denials and apparently contradictory research findings, some of which have been roundly criticised by both sides, it seems clear that statins bring with them the risk of a wide range of side effects.

Not least of these is muscle pain which can be quite extreme.

I know personally of at least half a dozen people among my own circle of friends who have had to adjust their statin intake or stop taking it altogether because the pains they experienced became unbearable.

It has been seen in some quarters as a ‘quick fix’ for a problem that could be better addressed by the more difficult but ultimately more beneficial act of adopting a healthier lifestyle, particularly in changing diet.

Now a major new study published in Rome by an Italian research team out of the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli has shown that, even for people with heart disease, a dietary shift is far more beneficial than taking statins.

They followed the progression of some 1,200 heart patients over the course of seven years.

During that period 208 patients died from their conditions.

Adjusting for other factors like age, smoking, cholesterol levels and other health issues the researchers were able to measure the relative impact of a ‘Mediterranean’ style diet on the medical outcomes of the patients.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil.

Experts have suggested that its benefits to heart patients come from a high level of protective fats like Omega 3 and mono-unsaturated fatty acids.

What nobody expected was that the study found that patients sticking more closely to the classic Mediterranean diet formula were 37% less likely to die from their condition than those whose daily diet was ‘furthest removed’ from the ideal model.

This compares with the acknowledged 18% reduced mortality risk that statins offer to heart patients.

Professor Giovanni de Gaetano presented the findings of his team to the European Society of Cardiology Congress, the largest gathering of heart specialists in the world, on 28th August.

“First of all doctors should consider diet before drugs,” he said.

While acknowledging that statins remained an important tool in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders the professor suggested that a greater emphasis on diet would reduce the need to prescribe them in the first place.

He went on to suggest that, since the costs of statins were already being borne by public health bodies, perhaps they might consider it a better investment to move toward subsidies that would make it more attractive to adopt the Mediterranean diet.

“The problem is that the NHS pays for drugs, but it does not pay for vegetables and fruit,” he suggested.

There are over 7 million people in the UK who are already living with heart conditions.

The NHS estimates that statins save over 7,000 lives every year, the cost of the drugs to the NHS is around £100 million per year which includes prescriptions to around 5 million ‘at risk’ patients.

Even if you plan to radically change your diet, if you already taking statins you must consult your doctor before making any decision to change your prescribed dosage.

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