Medicines commonly prescribed to cut people’s risk of having a heart attack may have limited use for treating other diseases, analysis of hundreds of scientific studies has suggested.
Statins are a class of drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol in the blood. Often given to older people, they can help to reduce their risk of heart disease and strokes.
Previous studies have suggested that the drugs might also help people with non-heart-related conditions, such as cancer, dementia and kidney disease.
A team of experts led by the University of Edinburgh found “positive signs” the drugs could benefit people with certain conditions, but they said the results were ultimately inconclusive.
Researchers concluded there is currently not enough evidence to support a change in guidance for the way the drugs are prescribed.
The scientists analysed the results of 256 studies into the benefits of taking statins for 278 non-heart disease conditions.
They found statins can help to prevent deaths from kidney disease, something already recognised in clinical guidelines.
Experts also uncovered evidence that statins can help to slow the progression of cancer, which they said warrants further investigation.
However, they found the data insufficient to say whether statins can benefit patients with the chronic lung condition COPD.
Furthermore, they did not identify any positive or negative links between statins and the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A modest increase in diabetes among people treated with statins was detected, but experts said the evidence was not enough to justify coming off the drugs.
Dr Evropi Theodoratou, who led the research at the university’s Usher Institute, said: “The role of statins in reducing the risk of heart disease is well established.
“Evidence that the drugs offer benefits for non-heart disease conditions is less clear cut, however. We found current evidence credibly supports a favourable link for just a few diseases.”
She added the absence of harmful side-effects associated with taking statins was “reassuring”.
The research is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.