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Statins May Soon Be An Option For Most Adults In The UK

Posted on 13 January 2023

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Anyone in the UK aged 18 or over may soon be able to take statins, a class of drug used to prevent cardiovascular disease, but which might also extend human health or lifespan through other mechanisms.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has drafted an update on the guidance for who can take statins. Currently, anyone with a 10% or higher risk of a cardiovascular event over the next 10 years should be offered a statin. That will still be the case under the new guidelines, but new recommendations say doctors should consider statins for patients with a less than 10% risk, so long as they are happy to take a statin.

What we’re saying is that, for people with a less than 10% risk over 10 years of a first heart attack or stroke, the decision to take a statin should be left to individual patients after an informed discussion of benefits and risks.

Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE

Statins lower one’s risk of cardiovascular disease in multiple ways, but mainly act by lowering the amount of cholesterol in the blood. However, studies have found that taking statins can reduce your risk of death irrespective of your cholesterol levels, at least among the elderly. Some of this could be down to effects of statins on the fundamental biology of ageing. For example, statins can activate telomerase in humans, an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres. Telomeres are segments of DNA that shorten each time a cell divides, and eventually render the cell unable to divide further. In various animal models, statins have also been found to extend lifespan by activating certain longevity-related genes.

Regardless of how statins reduce mortality, NICE now believes that their benefits apply even to those with a less than 10% risk of cardiovascular events over 10 years, and that these benefits outweigh the risks. Some studies suggest that while many people report side effects, a majority of these may actually be the result of the ‘nocebo effect’, not the treatment itself.

NICE adds that while statins may reduce your risk of heart disease, they aren’t a replacement for preventative lifestyle practices like exercise and a healthy diet. When it comes to ageing, we should also point out that not all animal studies agree that statins extend lifespan, and while statins seem to extend lifespan in elderly humans, the effects of their long-term use in younger age groups is less clear.

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