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Sad stat: statin users pigging out these days

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Currently, about 20% of adults are taking statins to control their cholesterol levels. A new study, subtitled “Gluttony in the Time of Statins?” has found that many individuals who were on statin therapy from 2009 to 2010 consumed more calories and fat, and weighed more, than statin users 10 years earlier; thus, suggesting that these individuals have a false sense of security about what they can eat. The study was published online in the peer reviewed JAMA Internal Medicine on April 24. On that date, the findings were also presented April 24 at the annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine.

The investigators accessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; they compared fat and caloric intake among statin users and non-users in 1999-2000 year versus 2009-2010. They found that statin users had increased their caloric intake by 9.6% in 2009-2010 compared to individuals on statins who were surveyed in 1999-2000; in addition, their consumption of fat had soared by 14.45t during the same period. In contrast, caloric and fat intake by non-users, by contrast, did not change significantly during the same 10-year period.

The differences could be explained by the fact that statin users simply do not feel the urgency to reduce their caloric and fat consumption, or to lose weight, the way that statin users 10 years ago did, noted primary investigator Takehiro Sugiyama, who led the research while a visiting scholar in the UCLA Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dr. Sugiyama is now a clinical fellow at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Japan, added that doctors today may be more likely to prescribe statins for patients who eat and weigh more.

“We believe that this is the first major study to show that people on statins eat more calories and fat than people on those medications did a decade earlier,” explained Dr. Sugiyama. He added, “Statins are used by about one-sixth of adults. We may need to re-emphasize the importance of dietary modification for those who are taking these medications, now that obesity and diabetes are important problems in society.” He added, “Regardless of the mechanism they are problems, because eating more fat, especially saturated fat, will lead to higher cholesterol levels, which will undermine the effect of statins and may lead to unnecessary cost of medications. Being overweight also increases the risk of diabetes and hypertension, which also are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.”

Take home message:

Inasmuch as taking statins involves both benefits and risks, statin users with poor dietary habits would most likely improve their health if they discontinued statins, ate a healthy weight, and maintained a health weight.