People taking statins or blood pressure pills have been warned that their medication is not a ‘free pass’ to prevent healthy habits.
A study of 40,000 people discovered that those who prescribed the medication were 82 percent more likely to pile on pounds.
It could render the drugs – which are supposed to prevent life-threatening events such as a heart attack and stroke – meaningless.
About six million people in the UK take cholesterol-lowering statins and about a million medicines for high blood pressure.
People taking statins or blood pressure pills have been warned that their medication is not a ‘free pass’ to avoid healthy habits, as research shows that prescriptions can lead to weight gain
The new study, led by the University of Turku in Finland, suggests that the importance of a healthy life needs to be driven home – or that recipes may not reach their goals.
Study leader Dr. Maarit Korhonen said: ‘Medication should not be seen as a free pass to continue or start an unhealthy lifestyle.
“Our research attempted to determine whether people who started taking drugs made the lifestyle changes needed to see health benefits.”
Statins lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, with studies suggesting that one in 50 patients taking the drug for five years will prevent a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
Critics, however, say they are ‘overhyped’ because research points to a number of disturbing side effects, including muscle pain, liver damage and the risk of diabetes.
And blood pressure pills, such as ACE inhibitors, have been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in early research.
WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?
Statins are the most prescribed drug in the world and an estimated 30 percent of all adults over 40 are eligible to take them.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are given to people who are believed to have a 10 percent or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years.
They have been proven to help people who have had heart problems in the past, but experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning that benefits for many people outweigh the side effects.
Almost all men exceed the 10 percent threshold at the age of 65, and all women do so at the age of 70 – regardless of their health.
Commonly reported side effects are headache, muscle aches and nausea, and statins can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and vision problems or memory loss.
Research published in the Pharmaceutical Journal last year showed that taking a statin every day for five years after a heart attack prolongs your life by just four days, new research shows.
And dr. Rita Redberg, professor at the University of California, San Francisco told CNN in January that out of 100 people who use statins for five years without having had a heart attack or stroke, “the best estimates are that one or two people will avoid a heart attack and no one will live longer by taking statins.
In this study Dr. Korhonen and colleagues more than 40,000 employees in the public sector in Finland who had not previously been diagnosed with heart disease or stroke.
Using questionnaires, information was collected every four years from 2000 to 2013 about the BMI of participants, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking history.
Pharmacy data were used to determine if they started taking blood pressure or statin agents.
People prescribed one of the two treatments were eight percent more likely to become physically inactive than those who did not use medication.
They were 82 percent more likely to gain weight, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
However, they were 26 percent more likely to quit smoking and reduce their alcohol consumption to some extent. Both are involved in heart disease.
Although people often arrive when they stop smoking, the researchers stated that this did not explain the BMI increase among the study participants.
Dr. Korhonen said, “People who start taking drugs should be encouraged to continue or control their weight, be physically active, manage alcohol use and stop smoking.”
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, welcomed the findings last night.
He said: “This study shows that the use of statins and antihypertensive treatment is accompanied by reduced physical activity and an increase in body weight, but also less smoking by those who have prescribed these treatments.
“The important message is that the use of drugs to prevent cardiovascular disease is not a substitute for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Other academics said the study did not prove that the effects – such as weight gain – were the result of a prescription. There may be other influences.
Dr. Riyaz Patel, associate professor and cardiologist consultant, Barts Health NHS Trust, said: “The findings are only associations and do not show that people who deliberately start taking cholesterol or blood pressure drugs have become less active or are eating poorly.
“There are many reasons why these people may have become heavier and become less active. Not all factors are explained. ”
Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow added: ‘This is an interesting observational study, but it cannot prove a real cause and effect.
“There has previously been evidence from randomized control trials that statins may increase so slightly in weight, which could be part of the explanation.
“But in general, net health changes seem positive.
“If we link these new findings to what we already know, it seems that more needs to be done to help people improve their weight and activity when they start taking new drugs, because all the positive changes they make are the risks and further reduce the quality of life of people, so a win-win. “
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF I HAVE A HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
High blood pressure or hypertension rarely shows noticeable symptoms. But if not treated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many will not realize it.
The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.
Blood pressure is recorded with two digits. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force with which your heart pumps blood through your body.
The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels. They are both measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90 mmHg or higher
- ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80 mmHg
- low blood pressure is considered 90/60 mmHg or lower
- A blood pressure measurement between 120/80 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg can mean that you run the risk of high blood pressure if you do not take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is too high, it will put extra pressure on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia