The number of heart attacks and strokes could be reduced if patients took stronger doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs, a new study has shown.
Researchers from the UK and Australia investigated whether more potent doses of statins had an effect on death and heart attack rates.
Statins are among the world’s biggest-selling drugs and are taken by millions of people each year. They work by blocking the action of an enzyme in the liver which is needed to make cholesterol.
The findings showed that there was a “highly significant” (15%) reduction in major heart attacks and strokes when stronger treatments were taken.
Heart-related deaths or non-fatal heart attacks were cut by 13%, the number of patients that required a bypass or other coronary treatments dropped by 19%, and strokes reduced by 16%.
Nearly 40,000 high-risk patients were part of the research, which measured effects after one year of taking either regular or intensive statin treatment to combat LDL cholesterol.
Lead researcher Colin Baigent, of Oxford University, said: “It is a continuous relationship, right the way down to very low levels of LDL cholesterol.”
The research found no significant effects on deaths due to cancer or other non-vascular causes.
But it warned that simply raising the dose of the most commonly used statin in the UK - simvastatin, might lead to some health problems.
A rare side-effect of simvastatin is muscle weakness, known as myopathy, and in some cases it can lead to more serious muscle damage.
“Guidelines have proposed that high doses of generic statins be used to achieve these benefits, but such regimens may be associated with higher risk of myopathy,” the study said.
“Instead, these benefits may be achieved more safely with newer, more potent statins.”
The British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, backed the study.