Elderly man with glasses

Should all people over 55 be given statins?

Millions of people take drugs called statins to lower the level of cholesterol in their blood and reduce their risk of heart disease. What are the pros and cons of giving all over-55s these drugs?

Statins are drugs that lower blood cholesterol. They reduce the risk of heart disease substantially and are widely prescribed: some 6 million people in Britain take them at the moment.

Long-term studies indicate that the risk of heart disease continues to fall as cholesterol goes down – and that statins can bring it below what are now ‘normal’ levels for people on typical Western diets. Some public health researchers have advocated that – because of statins’ benefits – they should be taken far more widely (and there is now a growing debate on the topic). Statins could be administered as part of a ‘polypill’ that has been used in trials testing the preventive powers of a combined daily dose of a statin, aspirin and drugs that reduce blood pressure.

However, the benefits of statins are stronger for people known to be at high risk of heart disease. If very large numbers of people take a powerful drug for the rest of their lives, once rare side-effects would crop up more frequently. There are also worries that providing such a pill might make people less likely to follow advice on a healthy diet or take enough exercise, making them miss out on other benefits.


Questions for discussion

  • Mass treatment with minerals and vitamins is often controversial. What do you think about adding fluoride to the water supply? Adding folic acid to bread? Genetically modifying food to produce particular chemicals (eg golden rice that produces beta-carotene)?

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Food and Diet’ in June 2011 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Medicine, Health, infection and disease
Food and Diet
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development