The taking of statins has for many years been the subject of great controversy. Yet a new study suggests that statins not only lower cholesterol, but also repair the heart and restore lost function. Around 6 million people in Britain are prescribed statins, but many do not take them over fears of debilitating side effects. Now research by Queen Mary University, London, shows they not only lower cholesterol but also appear to improve heart health.

The team used magnetic resonance scanning (MRI) to look into the hearts of 4,622 men and women in their sixties from the UK biobank, of whom 785 were taking statins. Compared with untreated individuals, patients prescribed statins had lower left ventricular heart chambers, containing 2.4% less muscle mass, meaning their hearts were fitter, healthier and more able to pulp blood efficiently. The effect was striking because those prescribed statins had been judged to have the biggest risk of heart problems, had higher BMI’s, higher blood pressure and were on average four years older,

‘People using statins were less likely to have a thickened heart muscle and less likely to have a large heart chamber,’ said lead scientists Dr Nay Aung. ‘Having a thick large heart is a strong predictor of future heart attacks, heart failure, or stroke, and taking statins appears to reverse the negative changes in the heart.’

The findings were presented at EuroCMR 2017, a conference on heart imaging taking place in Prague. Since 2013, the majority of men aged over 60 and women over 65 have been offered statins, even if they only have a one in ten chance of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.

However, some doctors believe it is wrong to medicate people who are generally healthy and some studies have suggested statins have side effects including muscle pain and diminished cognitive function. Heart charities claim there is growing evidence that statins are beneficial beyond simply lowering cholesterol. Previous studies have found that the drugs also improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This study is one of many which suggest statins have other effects on our heart health, though few have been proven. By using the power of the large scale imaging studies from the UK Biobank, this study indicates that statins may have a direct effect on the heart’s structure that we haven’t been able to detect until now.’

Having read many studies regarding statins, I believe that on average, they seem to be effective in many ways and their side effects to be minimal. For elderly people such as me, they are probably worth taking.

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