The drugs industry has used 'statistical deception' to exaggerate the benefits of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and down-play their risks, say researchers.
In reality, statins help less than one per cent of the population, although studies sponsored by drug companies suggest the drugs help up to 50 per cent of people.
These slight benefits are more than outweighed by adverse reactions to the drugs, which range from cancer, cataracts, diabetes, cognitive impairment and musculo-skeletal disorders.
"The adverse effects suffered by people taking statins are more common than reported in the media," say researchers Dr David Diamond, a professor of molecular pharmacology at the University of South Florida, and Dr Uffe Ravnskov, an expert in cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
They reanalysed the data used in some of the major statin trials, such as the Jupiter trial into the statin, Crestor, and the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial Lipid Lowering Arm (ASCOT-LLA), which influenced public health policy.
But when they looked at the underlying data again, the researchers found that the studies had "used statistical deception to create the illusion that statins are wonder drugs when the reality is that their modest benefits are more than offset by their adverse effects."
The key deception is using relative risk-where the drug is only one of several factors, such as improved diet and exercise-compared to absolute risk, when only the drug is considered and any other possible benefits are ignored.
The drugs do lower cholesterol levels, but this may not produce the enormous health benefits the drug companies tell us. Instead, low cholesterol levels have been associated with cognitive decline and an increased cancer risk.
(Source: Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, 2015; 8(2): 201)