Stronger statins 'could save lives'
Using more potent doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs could prevent thousands more heart attacks and strokes, new research suggests.
Scientists from the UK and Australia looked at how death and heart attack rates changed with more intense statins - taken by several million people each year.
The results, published in medical journal The Lancet, found that stronger treatments cut the numbers of major heart attacks and strokes by a "highly significant" 15%.
This included a 13% cut in heart-related death or non-fatal heart attacks, a 19% cut in patients needing bypass and other coronary treatments, and a 16% drop in strokes, the study said.
Nearly 40,000 high-risk patients were part of the research, which measured effects after one year of taking either regular or intensive treatment statin treatment to combat so-called "bad" 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."
Statins - among the world's biggest-selling drugs - work by blocking the action of a certain enzyme in the liver which is needed to make 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."