Dietary experts worry that findings may encourage couch potatoes to stay put. The Heart Protection Study just released suggests deaths from heart disease and stroke would be reduced dramatically if more seemingly healthy people used cholesterol-lowering drugs.
The results were published for the first time this weekend in the British medical journal The Lancet, enlisted 20,536 British adults ranging in age from 40 to 80. Half received a statin drug and half were given a placebo.
Study participants were at high risk of developing heart disease — because they had conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and the like — but did not necessarily have elevated cholesterol levels.
Five years of followup showed a dramatic reduction in heart events among the participants in the statin arm of the trial, even among those with normal cholesterol levels at the start. Not only were they less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, they were also less likely to need bypass surgery, or angioplasty.
In Toronto, Dr. David Jenkins, who has shown through his own research that dietary changes can significantly cut blood cholesterol levels, is concerned an increasing reliance on pills will give people an excuse not to improve their diets or increase physical activity.
"I would rather that we pursued the diet and lifestyle changes wholeheartedly as fully as we can. Because my belief is there may come a time when we’re couch potatoes, eating too much, taking no exercise and where we have to have amounts and a range of drugs where truly the (negative) side-effects may become something more significant for our population."
Jenkins fears the combination of the Western diet and lifestyle means most people will end up taking a cocktail of drugs to keep heart disease at bay.
Jenkins published a study about 15 months ago showing that eating a cave man-inspired diet — he dubbed it the Garden of Eden diet — dropped cholesterol levels by a staggering 30 per cent in a mere two weeks. But preparing and eating enough of the roots, shoots, berries and leafy greens to sustain oneself was time-consuming and not a practical approach to modern life.
Still, he thinks there is more people could do to improve their heart health before they actually resort to drugs. Eating more vegetables and less fatty food. Working out rather than watching TV.
And he is concerned that studies like HPS will simply lull people into thinking that there’s an easy solution — a magic pill — that will mean they don’t have to get up off the couch or forgo the french fries.