Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are some of the most widely used in the world, with annual sales in the USA alone of $15.5bn - and they may also be some of the most ineffective.
A major new study of 4,574 patients with chronic heart disease has revealed that the drugs do nothing to extend life or prevent hospital care.
This new finding, made by researchers from the ANMCO Research Centre in Florence, adds weight to a similar conclusion made by Harvard researchers last year.
The Italian research team tracked the progress of the heart patients, who were given either the statin drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) or a placebo. More of the patients in the Crestor group died, and more needed hospital care, than those given a placebo. Overall, 1305 patients in the statin group died from their heart condition or were admitted to hospital, compared with 1283 from the placebo group.
These new findings reflect those made by the Harvard research team when they carried out a meta-analysis of eight trials and discovered that the drugs had no positive effect on the health of 10,990 women who were taking a statin, and only a very marginal benefit for men.
The Harvard team also noted that just 8 per cent of those taking a statin actually had a heart condition; in other words, it was a 'just-in-case' remedy.
Although it is ineffective, the statin isn't without its own health concerns. The drug has been linked to Parkinson's disease and, paradoxically, heart disease.
(Source: The Lancet, 2008; 372: 1231-9 (Italian study); The Lancet, 2007; 369: 268-9 (Harvard study)).