Harvard Heart Letter

Statins may offer a long-term legacy benefit

Cholesterol-lowering statins seem to have long-lasting benefits against heart disease, according to a 20-year follow-up of a landmark Scottish study.

In the original study, published in 1995, more than 6,500 middle-aged men with high levels of harmful LDL cholesterol took either 40 milligrams of pravastatin (Pravachol) or a placebo daily for an average of nearly five years. For the follow-up, published in the March 15 Circulation, researchers used electronic medical records to analyze health-related events among the same men over the following two decades. They also tracked the men's use of statins after the original study ended. After five years, more than a third of the men in both groups were taking statins, but no further data on statin use was available after that.

Compared with men who initially took placebos, men who'd taken pravastatin had a 24% lower risk of having a heart attack over the next 20 years, and a 35% lower rate of hospitalization for heart failure. In addition, rates of cancer were similar in both groups, a finding that offers additional reassurance about the safety of statins.