Insights from the UK and beyond
Burger, fries and a statin – to go please
Fast food outlets should hand out free cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to their customers to
“neutralise” the heart risks of eating fatty foods like burgers and fries, British scientists suggest.
It may sound like a strange idea, but in a study to be published in the American Journal of Cardiology, scientists from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London have done the sums and say the offset would work. They calculated that the reduction in heart disease risk offered by a statin could offset the increase in risk from eating a cheeseburger and a milkshake.
“Statins don’t cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burger and fries. It’s better to avoid fatty food altogether.
But we’ve worked out that in terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it,” said Dr.
Darrel Francis, who led the research team.
“When people engage in risky behaviours like driving or smoking, they’re encouraged to take measures that minimise their risk, like wearing a seatbelt or choosing cigarettes with filters. Taking a statin is a rational way of lowering some of the risks of eating a fatty meal.”
Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) health charity, said Francis’ idea should not be taken too literally. He urged people to focus on maintaining a healthy diet and taking exercise to keep their hearts healthy.
“Statins are a vital medicine for people with — or at high risk of developing — heart disease,” he said. “They are not a magic bullet.”
Statins are among the most widely used drugs for the treatment and prevention of heart disease and strokes — the world’s top killers.
One statin, a generic drug called simvastatin, is already available in low doses over the counter at pharmacies in Britain without a prescription. Other statins such as Pfizer’s Lipitor and AstraZeneca’s Crestor — which are among the biggest-selling drugs in the world — are for prescription only.
“Although no substitute for systematic lifestyle improvements, including healthy diet, regular exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation, complimentary statin packets would add, at little cost, one positive choice to a panoply of negative ones,” the scientists wrote in their paper.
“It makes sense to make risk-reducing supplements available just as easily as the unhealthy condiments condiments (such as salt) that are provided free of charge,” Francis said. “It would cost less than 5 pence ($0.07) per customer — not much different to a sachet of ketchup.”