Cholesterol medication not being used to make up for unhealthy lifestyle, study finds

Cholesterol medication not being used to make up for unhealthy lifestyle, study finds

The image of an unhealthy person chowing down on a burger and fries one minute then gobbling anti-cholesterol medication in the hope of atoning for their dietary sins is staple of popular culture. But a new study from Monash University researchers has revealed that, contrary to both popular belief and some previous international research, this is not necessarily the case – at least in Australia.

A multidisciplinary team led by the Centre for Medicine Use and Safety’s Dr Jenni Ilomaki looked at whether people who take statin cholesterol medications have a healthy diet or lifestyle.

Statins are a class of medications often prescribed by doctors to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Statins help prevent heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

The study, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, examined the lifestyle habits of users and non-users of statin medication, taking into account alcohol consumption, smoking status, exercise level and saturated fat intake. The study included more than 4600 participants from across Australia.

Some previous international research had suggested statin users had lower exercise levels. However, this study reveals that smoking status, alcohol consumption and exercise level did not differ significantly between users and non-users of statin medication. In addition, the study established that statin users were 29% less likely to consume high amounts of saturated fat compared to non-users. This finding mirrors with a Swedish study which found that statin users had better dietary habits compared to non-users.

“It’s sometimes assumed that many people take statin cholesterol medications to substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle, but we found no evidence of this. In fact, statin users were less likely to consume high levels of saturated fat than non-users, even after controlling for a person’s cardiovascular risk factors,” said Dr Ilomaki.

“It is possible that people prescribed statins were more likely to receive dietary information from their healthcare professionals than people not prescribed statins, but it remains unclear whether better dietary habits among statin users are sustained over time”.

The results of the study have important implications because statins are among the most widely prescribed medications in Australia, with more than 30% of people aged 50 years and older taking medications to lower their cholesterol. One in five Australians have cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular health is a national health priority in Australia. The study highlights the continued importance of healthcare professionals emphasising diet and lifestyle modification when prescribing statins.