One of the most common drugs administered by Western healthcare professionals is the statin. As many people are nowadays aware, statins are a group of medications used primarily in the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia, and administered to many patients – often in their middle-age and beyond – exhibiting high blood pressure and/or heart diseases. The primary aim of a statin is to prevent heart attacks or strokes in patients with high cholesterol.
A recent UK research study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology looked at the use of statins and their safety profile in children with a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia. The children in the study all inherited a condition that gives them a high cholesterol level in blood, and according to updated management guidelines from NICE, all those with this condition who are over the age of ten should be prescribed statins. This recommendation is accompanied by an emphasis on a healthy diet and regular exercise, but since these children could be taking statins for their entire lives, it is vital that safety profiles are fully investigated.
Liver toxicity is a particularly important part of the safety profile, as statins have been repeatedly shown to cause elevation in liver enzyme levels – indicative of liver inflammation or injury. The Journal of Clinical Lipidology study showed no evidence of liver toxicity or any differences in physical or mental development when comparing with children not on statins.
Despite these initial positive findings, there were a number of limitations affecting the quality of the study, including the relatively small sample size of 300 children. In addition to this, a critical appraisal of the study also reveals that the researchers at the Journal of Clinical Lipidology didn’t examine muscle pain in the children, despite this being a major and common side-effect of the treatment in adults. The greatest flaw in the study, however, was its duration. The study monitored the children for three years, rather than over the long-term period it claims to be examining.
Despite the obvious flaws to the study, the results did suggest that statins are an appropriate treatment for children – at least in the mid-term. Whilst there is evidently more research to be completed, statins have been proven to successfully reduce the risk of heart disease in adults, and as such, can be seriously considered an option for children.