Do You Want Statins with Your Fast Food?

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Forget supersizing: some researchers have suggested fast food restaurants might want to provide customers with statins to reduce the risk of heart disease associated with eating fatty foods. This suggestion was presented by experts at Imperial College London and published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Fast Food Dangers

The health hazards of fast food have been well covered in the media, but despite warnings of an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, and other health problems associated with fatty fast foods, the public still flocks to restaurants that serve this fare.

According to an American Heart Association news release, for example, the risk of stroke increases by 1 percent for every fast food restaurant in a given neighborhood. Numerous studies have linked eating fast food with obesity in both adults and children, and fast food burgers and fries have been named as heart attack triggers. Studies also have shown a clear link between cholesterol levels and total fat intake, including trans fats, which are found in fast food.

Statins to the Rescue?
Some scientists have suggested that fast food customers be given a free statin with their meals to help offset the health damage from their fatty food choices. Statins reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the bloodstream, or what is commonly called “bad” cholesterol, so-called because it leads to buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.

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According to Dr. Darrel Francis, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, “Statins don’t cut out all the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. It’s better to avoid fatty food altogether.” Francis and his colleagues are realistic, however, and know most fast-food lovers will continue to eat the food because it tastes good. “Sadly fast food chains will continue to sell unhealthy foods because it earns them a living,” noted Francis.

Making free statins available to customers at fast food restaurants can reduce a person’s risk of having a heart attack “to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it,” according to the study’s authors. They also note that statins have a good safety profile, although there are many people, healthcare providers included, who say statins pose too many risks, including liver and kidney dysfunction, muscle pain, muscle weakness, memory loss, lack of concentration, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

The study’s authors say that “taking a statin is a rational way of lowering some of the risks of eating a fatty meal.” Based on their analysis of data from seven randomized controlled trials, they report that most statin regimes can compensate for the relative risk associated with eating a cheeseburger and a small milkshake.

While making statins available to patrons of fatty fast food may sound like a sound preventive measure, it also gives a stamp of approval to poor nutrition and eating habits and can give people a false sense of security. Taking a statin with your fast food burger and fries will not likely negate all the possible harmful effects such food can have on the body overall and over time.

For now, the authors agree studies need to be done to determine the potential risks associated with individuals taking statins without medical supervision. They have suggested putting a warning on the statin packets for fast food patrons, telling them that the statin is not a substitute for a healthy diet and advising people to talk to their doctor for more information.

SOURCES:
American Heart Association
Imperial College news release, August 12, 2010

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