Critical statins articles condemned
A leading medical academic has accused critics of cholesterol-reducing statins of misleading the public.
Professor Sir Rory Collins criticised articles published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) which claimed statins caused harmful side effects and did not reduce mortality.
He said the papers, written by John Abramson from Harvard Medical School and UK cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, were misleading.
Statins are currently offered to as many as seven million people in the UK who have a 2 0% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) called for the NHS to widen this to cover people with just a 10% risk following a study by Professor Collins' team at Oxford University.
He told the Guardian that critics of statins were doing "a serious disservice to British and international medicine" as the drugs were "very well tolerated".
Professor Collins claimed the uncertainty over statins was more serious than when Andrew Wakefield wrote a paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
"I would think the papers on statins are far worse in terms of the harm they have done, and (the uncertainty) is probably killing more people than some irresponsible papers that have been published in journals, such as that on the MMR vaccine," said Professor Collins.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Statins are given to people at elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes - if people at elevated risk stop taking their statins or don't start taking their statins then they will have unnecessary heart attacks and strokes, there will be unnecessary deaths from vascular causes. This is really irresponsible journalism."
Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor, defended the publication of the papers and insisted that significant medical issues deserved to be debated openly.
"The randomised control trial data is notoriously poor at reporting adverse events. So I think it's extremely important that the public understand when we're talking about extending statins to people at low risk, that the balance between benefits and harms becomes much more important," she told the BBC.
"The articles were well written, well referenced, they were peer reviewed."
Statins are a group of medicines that help lower rates of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - so called ''bad cholesterol'' - in the blood.
They do this by cutting production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver.
High-rates of LDL cholesterol are linked to hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which can cause heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.
People can lower their risk naturally by eating a healthy diet, low in saturated fats, and increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in their diet.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in England and Wales. In 2010, one in three people died from it.
The NHS estimates that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK.