Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this scenario. You walk into your favorite fast-food restaurant - your mouth is watering for that most beloved item on the menu which just happens to have more calories, more cholesterol, and more fat (along with lots of other really bad and unhealthy things for you), in one serving that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you consume in a week. But it just tastes so good (double-yummy!) that this is your third trip in for the fast food delicacy this week. But, no worries about your heart in this imaginary junk-food-heaven dream because you simply smile sweetly at the cashier and say, “Supersize me, and oh yes, I’ll have that with statins on the side!”
Statins on the side? At McDonalds? Taco Bell? Long John Silvers? Would someone please pinch me and wake me up? I don’t know whether this scenario is supposed to be a dream for the junk food addict or a nightmare for our thighs (and arteries) but this is exactly what some researchers based in the United Kingdom are proposing - free statins with fast food orders to keep cholesterol levels down.
Now, I’m all about personal empowerment when it comes to health care. And yes, I’ve even been known to self-medicate a time or two. (After all, don’t I know my body better than anyone else?) Despite this, I have to say that I was really taken aback (and not in a good way) when I saw news headlines promoting restaurants passing out free statins at our junk-food-drive-thrus. My initial reaction was give-me-a-break. I guess a health care break is what researchers are trying to provide.
So, just where are the headlines about statins and fast-food restaurants coming from? Why, a new research study, of course. Researchers led by Dr. Darrel Francis at the Imperial College London published the results from a recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology on August 15, 2010. The researchers actually suggest that fast food restaurants should hand out statins along with the meal to minimize the potential risk introduced by their food.
In a nutshell, the researchers indicate that taking statins reduces your risk of heart disease just enough to offset eating that “cheeseburger and a milkshake.” In other words, if you eat out at that favorite fast-food place and take statins with the meal - you’ll break even. The junk food will increase your risk of heart disease but the statin will reduce the risk by roughly the same amount - it’s a draw. (Well, maybe it’s not exactly a draw - maybe it’s heart: zero, thighs: 10!)
Of course, taking supplements to reduce a health risk is nothing new. Also, many drugs start out as prescription only and eventually make the transition to over-the-counter availability. All drugs have the potential to have some nasty side effects, especially if taken improperly or in large doses. Statins are known to have some side effects, such as liver and muscle damage, which, in some people are permanent. Should statins be available in an uncontrolled environment? (Some people would question whether or not they should be available at all but that is a totally different discussion.)
The real question (at least to cholesterol-counting-queen) is should we be self-medicating with statins? Or, more importantly, do we really want restaurants serving us up a side of statins with our meals? What do you think?
Wong, Sam, Free statins with fast food could neutralize heart risk, scientists say, 12 Aug 2010, EurekaAlert.com, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-08/icl-fsw081210.php