More than 60,000 Australians stopped taking statins following a controversial documentary on the health effects of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to new research.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney, suggested that the event demonstrates how important it is that medical journalism provides a clear and balanced view of the issues involved.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed drugs in Australia. They reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, but recent evidence indicates that they may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The documentary, which was broadcast by ABC, found that the link between cholesterol and heart disease was untrue, but spoke only to “experts” who clearly favoured one side of the argument. Many of the statistics and facts presented in the program have since been refuted, and it has been removed from ABC’s website.
Since the program was broadcast, the University of Sydney researchers found, 60,897 people had stopped taking statins.
“We’re not saying the media shouldn’t report on these issues,” said Sallie Pearso, one of the study’s authors. But she warned that “the media does need to carefully consider the importance of their role in disseminating information to consumers and show balance in the way they communicate their messages.”
Indeed, while ABC’s broadcast was clearly one-sided, failing to provide a balanced overview of the statins debate, it did touch on many of the controversies surrounding statins right now. Professor Chris Del Mar, a medicine specialist with Bond University in Queensland, explained that statins are over-prescribed.
“My own patients seem to think a high cholesterol reading is disease, and I spend a lot of time explaining to them it is only one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and that for some patients, there may be a whole lot of other ways to reduce their risk before taking statins, including eaten less salt, lowering blood pressure and lifestyle factors.”
One of the biggest controversies surrounding the use of statins is the increasing evidence that they increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In March, a study published in Diabetologia indicated that the risk increase could be as much as 46 per cent.

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