Discover the latest statin lie – make sure that YOU check the facts

Friday 13th April 2012

  • This is why wise words from mum should always be heeded
  • Lazy hacks offer only hype

As a kid I never walked if I could run.

You see I always wanted to be ahead of the game, needed to be somewhere first and always faster than I’d got there before.

“Don’t be in such a rush,” Mum would say, “You’ll meet yourself coming back one of these days!”

I never really understood the concept of seeing my little spindly knees in a blur of motion coming back the other way.

As I’ve got older, and maybe a little wiser, Mum’s words have stayed with me and I always try to delve a little deeper when information crosses my desk.

Being hasty is never a good thing if you write about health matters, but modern life seems to offer the unwary the chance to trip up as they rush to file a story.

For instance, did any of you see the banner headlines in the Telegraph or the Daily Express last week that said ‘Statins halt Alzheimer’s’?

If you did I bet like me you raised a curious and disbelieving eyebrow.

You see I have long held the view that there are just so many claims being made about statins that there is no way they can hold water.

When a health editor get’s a chance to hit the front page they should bear my simple approach in mind – if it’s sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t, especially if it concerns statins.

In this case a Canadian University published a study that indicated a benefit in cognitive function from taking Simvastatin.

This caused an unseemly rush to the ‘tripe-writer’ and an ensuing frenzy of creative writing generated those earth-shattering headlines: The problem was they had it all wrong.

Once the intrepid hacks had filed their copy they had probably sat back feeling that the impeccable and learned source of their story in a peer reviewed journal gave them all the protection they needed.

After all it is only jaundiced old codgers like me that are regularly speaking up against the statin wonder drug, so even if there was an argument they could hide behind the science.

Unfortunately, within hours our own beloved NHS published a counter story.

Their team of experts pointed out one or two salient problems.

1) The study only involved mice.

2) The conclusion of the study was that Simvastatin fully restored short and long term memory in adult mice, but not in aged mice.

3) The research team found no reduction in the presence of the amyloid plaque which typifies Alzheimer’s.

4) Finally, the results for healthy mice can’t be translated to ageing humans who are at risk of Alzheimers.

As Homer Simpson might say... “D’oh!”

Can health hacks really hack it or will they always hype it?

If the journalists had taken the time to look into the story further they might even have found out the biggest problem with their headlines – the fact that statins have been PROVEN not to help human Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Two recent high quality reviews of research into statins and dementia suggest that there is no evidence that the drugs provide any benefits at all for humans with the condition.

So, what are the real conclusions that the Canadian boffins drew from their studies?

Well they stated that such drugs showed “high therapeutic promise” in patients with vascular disease who were at risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Not quite the headline the boys from the press corps wanted there is it?

Other powerful experts in the field were also quick to condemn the claims being made.

I particularly enjoyed the candid tone in the statement from the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Simon Ridley who said;

“People should view the results with caution until further research has teased out how Simvastatin might be working in these mice, and more importantly, until there is any significant new clinical trial data in humans.”

Ladies and gentlemen I rest my case. With a little careful research, and a bit of restraint on rushing to laud pharmaceutical advances, those writers might not have to try to undo the damage they have done.

I guess they really have met themselves coming back the other way.

What this doesn’t excuse though is poor quality journalism which is led by a need to sensationalise rather than rationalise.

Is it too much for us to expect our national press to do their homework before they start pushing potentially dangerous information at us? After all, this story about statins follows hard on the heels of the one about Aspirin and cancer which also suffered from a hyped approach.

Our politicians, media moguls and big business drive the way our press works and inflict their own self interest on the news we receive, but maybe their little web is unravelling.

Last Wednesday the Guardian published a front page story about how MP’s and lords had been getting funding from third parties.

Hidden amongst a mass of information was the fact that there were contributions of over £100,000 for membership of the all party health group that had arrived from some of the worlds biggest pharmaceutical companies.

In the light of that if you or I sent a strongly worded letter into the Department of Health attacking the use of, say, statins do you think we would be heard?

Yours, as always





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