What's all the fuss about Fats and statins?
There was some embarrassment as the BMJ hit the news yesterday over having to pull some published reports into statins over questions about the quality of the data- but what are statins and what's going on?
Statins are very commonly prescribed drugs, designed to be given to anyone who has a 20% likelihood of having a heart attack within the next 10 years.
There has been much research done on their beneficial effects in reducing blood cholesterol which we all know as public enemy number one when it comes to heart disease.
On the face of it looks like a cut and dried argument: you reduce cholesterol using the drugs and you reduce heart disease.
But like many discussions in medicine it is a little bit more complicated than that.
Initially cholesterol and fats was seen as the bad guys and we were all urged to cut down on fatty foods, like burgers, chips and avocados and stop eating high cholesterol foods such as eggs and cheese.
However as the research developed and scientist understood the situation better, it was recognised that some fats are actually really good for us, such as the omega six fish oils which prevent heart attacks, the fats in avocados which help keep hearts healthy and reduce inflammation, so it's not just fat itself we need to be wary of, it's the kind of fat that is important.
The added complication is the development of adulterated fats- these are the ones are found in processed foods and low-fat spreads. Fats are generally liquid at room temperature, however that's not very convenient if you want to make a spread, or to produce a solid fat; to do this science races to a rescue and through cunning chemical processes the natural fat is converted into something new, something different which serves the food processing companies needs perfectly. However this new fat creates chemical structures and compounds that the body has never had to deal with before, and there is growing concern that whilst we assume eating these products will help us to have a healthier lifestyle, it may in fact be having a very detrimental effect on our health.
And now even the 'wonderdrug' Statins are currently under great scrutiny as they are starting to show a number of tricky side-effects. Statins are good at removing cholesterol from the body, but they are fairly non-selective in where they take it from; they strip it from the blood, but also from the cell membranes where it is also plentiful. Unfortunately the cell membranes need their cholesterol to deliver a number of essential functions, most importantly maintaining good a nervous system; and this explains the strong statin side-effects that can be experienced of pain, neurological problems and muscle's spasm.
Today the BMJ, who published two recent reports on the problems with statins, have had to state that they are reviewing the reports as the questions as to how reliable the data is.
Unfortunately this makes it even more difficult for the average person trying to improve their health to know what to do.
Whilst the debate is being resolved, which may take some time, the simplest solution is to follow this useful guidelines:
• exercise healthily
• eat good food that isn't processed, and has less than 5 ingredients
• eat food that's fresh and goes off in a natural timeframe
• eat it before it does