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What are statins?
01:05 - Source: CNN

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There's not enough convincing evidence linking statins to benefits beyond cardiovascular disease, analysis says

Researchers say that existing evidence is suggestive enough to warrant further study

CNN  — 

Despite some studies suggesting that statin drugs have benefits beyond cardiovascular health, for such issues as cancer and Alzheimer’s, a broad new analysis says there’s a lack of compelling evidence linking such benefits to statins – and, thus, little reason to change recommendations for who gets these cholesterol-lowering meds and why.

The drugs are commonly prescribed to prevent heart disease in individuals above a certain risk level, but the new analysis – published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine – looked at 278 other health conditions and effects.

“I was surprised by the amount of outcomes we identified to have been linked with statins,” study author Evropi Theodoratou, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, wrote in an email. “However, we only identified a dearth of convincing evidence that statins had a major role” in these outcomes.

The analysis found limited evidence of positive outcomes related to cancer, dementia, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD. But only one of these outcomes was significant in a randomized trial – lower all-cause mortality in patients with chronic kidney disease – and the authors say it could still be driven by the drugs’ impact on cardiovascular disease; the two often go hand in hand.

“Clinical guidelines already recognize the benefits of statins in preventing cardiovascular events in patients with chronic kidney disease who are not receiving dialysis. On the other hand, clinical guidelines currently do not indicate the use of statins to improve cancer prognosis or COPD,” Theodoratou said. “I am not aware of any serious efforts by doctors to redefine these guidelines.”

More testing needed

More than a quarter of Americans over 40 take a statin, the most common type of cholesterol-lowering medication, according to a 2014 report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Different statins are sold under brand names such as Lipitor and Crestor.

Michael Pencina, vice dean for data science and information technology at the Duke University School of Medicine, said the analysis was important because people will invariably be on statins for long periods of time for their heart health, but the question remains: What else could those statins be doing, good or bad?