Evidence does not support statin use for conditions other than heart disease, research suggests.
Statins are a group of drugs that lower a patient’s cholesterol to reduce their risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Past research suggests the medication may also slow cancer and even dementia.
But scientists from the University of Edinburgh argue that after reviewing more than 270 studies, there is insufficient evidence to support these claims.
They add statin-prescription guidelines should not be changed away from patients at a high risk of heart disease and stroke.
Evidence does not support statin use for conditions other than heart disease (stock)
The researchers analysed 256 studies that investigated the benefits of statins in 278 non-cardiovascular conditions.
Results suggest the controversial drugs can help to prevent deaths from kidney disease, which is already recognised.
But no studies supported statins improving kidney function.
Although evidence suggests the drugs can slow tumour progression, more research is required before they are prescribed to cancer patients, the scientists argued.
It is also unclear how effective statins are at easing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Alzheimer’s, they add.
The findings were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
According to the researchers, the lack of convincing evidence supporting statins in non-cardiovascular diseases suggests prescription guidance for the drugs should remain unchanged.
The study review opens up the controversial statins debate, with some experts arguing the cholesterol-lowering drugs should be more broadly prescribed.
However, others claim the cheap pills are being unnecessarily ‘medicalised’ and offer no medical benefit.
This comes after research released in July last year suggested statins should be prescribed to all men over 60 and women older than 75.
The study claimed almost 12 million adults in England ought to take the pills.
Yet, 6.3 million are not using the drugs even though they are considered to be at a high risk.
However, on the same day of the research’s release, the Royal College of GPs warned statins are being ‘needlessly doled out’ and called for an end to the ‘blanket prescription’, arguing otherwise healthy people are being unnecessarily ‘medicalised’.
The body added that if 100 people with a 10 per cent heart disease risk within 10 years took the cholesterol-lowering drugs, as recommended by NICE, only four would be protected against the condition.
Statin side effects can include muscle pain, liver damage, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and hair loss.
An NHS review of scientific studies suggests one in 50 people who take statins for five years will avoid a ‘serious event’, such as a heart attack.
And only one in 10,000 patients experience a ‘potentially dangerous’ complication.