Prescriptions for the cholesterol-reducing drugs statins are a waste of time, a group of experts have said in controversial new research which claims cholesterol does not cause heart disease in the elderly.
An international team of scientists reviewed 19 previous studies, involving 68,000 people, and said they found no link between high levels of LDL cholesterol, the so-called "bad cholesterol", and heart disease in the over-60s.
The study found that 92% of people over 60-years-old with high cholesterol lived as long as, or longer than those with low cholesterol levels. In the remaining 8%, no association was found.
Statins have long been prescribed as a means of reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis.
The authors have called for a reevaluation of statin prescriptions, saying "the benefits from statin treatment have been exaggerated". But the team claims its research indicates high levels of cholesterol may even be beneficial in preventing other illnesses. High cholesterol, the team writes, "binds to and inactivates a broad range of microorganisms and their toxic products", protecting people from some diseases.
The researchers claim high cholesterol levels "may protect against cancer", as studies following 140,000 people for between 10 and 30 years found lower levels of cancer in those whose total cholesterol levels were higher.
They also cite research in which rodents given cholesterol lowering drugs developed cancers. The research has prompted fierce criticism from academics, who have questioned the research methods and bias of the authors.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the findings were "not surprising because, as we get older, many more factors determine our overall health, making the impact of high cholesterol levels less easy to detect". (The independent)