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The use of drugs to reduce cholesterol has grown by 442% in 10 years

02 feb. 2015

OCU study on people affected by cholesterol

OCU has made a study of more than 2,300 Spaniards between 25 and 74 years of age and found that they are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs indiscriminately. The data has been completed with parallel studies in Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Brazil.

The OCU survey data shows that 27% of Spaniards between 25 and 74 years admit to having problems with cholesterol (a lower figure than neighbouring countries like Portugal or Italy). This situation should not cause undue alarm but we should give this fact the relative value it has for determining the cardiovascular risk of each person.

The message that cholesterol is bad and has to be kept under control has become popular among Spaniards. Taking statins has thus become the norm, to the point that this is the option for 67% of people who try to reduce their cholesterol levels.
Many people are unaware that having high levels of cholesterol is not reason enough in itself to take medication. The profile that this has in combination with other cardiovascular risk factors is significant when evaluating the need for one treatment or another.

OCU reiterates that having high cholesterol is not itself a disease, but only one of many factors that could contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems. And it is not even the most decisive. Indeed, by itself and when it is not accompanied by other circumstances, such as smoking, physical inactivity, diabetes, overweight or old age, it barely raises the risk of suffering a cardiovascular incident or disease.

Data from the survey conducted by OCU shows that 22% of Spaniards consume or have consumed statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs. They have medicalised a problem that, in many cases, could be focusing upon in a different way, without resorting to compounds having numerous side effects and whose usefulness is controversial. It is also worth noting that of those who followed a treatment to lower cholesterol, barely 2% chose simply to adapt their lifestyle, doing physical exercise and watching their diet, while 41%  limited their treatment exclusively to medication.

The decision to prescribe drugs is delicate and is based on different assessments by specialists; but either way, it often seems that writing prescriptions is imposed as the only option without there being a compelling need to do so. The data from the OCU survey shows that in many cases people are being medicated unnecessarily; how else can you explain the fact that 34% of people are taking medication with cholesterol below 240 mg / dl or that 8% of those taking medication had cholesterol levels below 200 mg / dl.

What OCU questions is not so much that statins do the job intended as that they now have such a major role in treating cholesterol. For example, a 40 year old with a cholesterol slightly above the limit, but who does not smoke and has a normal weight, bringing down this level would not reduce by more than 1% the risk of cardiovascular problems. The gain is so small that it is of questionable worth being exposed to a treatment that is permanent, which has adverse effects and which involves considerable cost to both private pockets to the public purse. 21% of respondents being treated with statins have experienced, among other things, muscle cramps or fatigue. On more than a third of occasions, the reactions were severe.

Moreover, OCU warns about misinformation about balanced nutrition. For example, eggs are associated with a rise in cholesterol; but the study supporting this thesis was from the 1970s and has now been rebutted. Other compounds that promise to help lower cholesterol have a very modest effectiveness, according to our respondents.

The scientific evidence is that the impact of cholesterol has been over-estimated. This does not mean we should stop worrying about it or that medication is not suitable for people at high risk and with soaring cholesterol levels. But nothing justifies an increase of statin use between 2000 and 2012 of 442% (according to the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices), except a very cleverly orchestrated commercial campaign.

Medication is not always for the best. This is why OCU is promoting the campaign #PastillasLasJustas via our Twitter account (@consumidores) and through its web

For more information (media) Eva Jimenez Tel.   917 226 061