Yes, statins protect hearts. But critics question their expanding use | Science News

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Yes, statins protect hearts. But critics question their expanding use

For people who haven’t had a heart problem, the benefit-to-risk balance changes

7:00am, May 3, 2017
illustration of man with umbrella under raining statins

THE STATIN UMBRELLA  After decades of study, a big question remains about the safety of statins: What are the risks for people who have a chance of benefit but haven’t yet had a heart attack or stroke?  

Cholesterol is so important to life that practically every human cell makes it. Cells use the compound to keep their membranes porous and springy, and to produce hormones and other vital substances. The body can make all the cholesterol it needs, but Americans tend to have a surplus, thanks in large part to too little exercise and too much meat, cheese and grease. Fifty years ago, researchers began to suspect that all this excess cholesterol was bad for arteries. But the idea remained difficult to prove — until statins came along.

Once the powerful cholesterol-busting drugs appeared, in the 1980s, scientists were able to show that a drop in cholesterol could keep a person who had suffered one heart attack or stroke from having a second. Later studies pointed to protection for even relatively healthy people. Researchers writing in the American Journal of Cardiology in 2010 declared that the

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