The widely prescribed cholesterol lowering drug pravastatin is little better than a sugar pill in protecting against a second heart attack, a major study has discovered.

Over 4,000 survivors of a serious heart attack were either given the drug or a placebo. All had average levels of cholesterol. After five years, 10 per cent in the pravastatin group had a second attack, compared with 13 per cent in the placebo group (New England Journal of Medicine, 1996; 335: 1001-9).

Cholesterol levels among people living in Mauritius fell by 15 per cent after the commonly used cooking oil was changed from palm oil to soya bean oil, which is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Researchers were concerned, however, that an oil high in polyunsaturates could lead to higher concentrations of free radicals, which may lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. A better substitute might have been one of the monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil or rapeseed oil (BMJ, 1996; 313: 1044-46).

For more information on cholesterol, see WDDTY vol 3, no 1 and the WDDTY Guide to the Heart.

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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