People who are susceptible to heart attack or stroke stand to benefit more from following the Mediterranean diet instead of taking cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins, according to health experts in the United Kingdom.

In an editorial featured in the medical journal Prescriber, leading doctors in the country have urged people to eat more healthily, to be more active physically and to quit smoking as these steps are just as effective at reducing their susceptibility to stroke and heart attack as taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

A trio of medical experts, including cardiologist and prominent critic of statin use, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, pointed out that organizations, such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), should refrain from relying too much on medication in order to reduce risks of cardiovascular issues.

Malhotra and his colleagues said that doctors should inform their patients in full detail about the benefits and risks associated with statin use. They should also tell them about the option of making non-medical, lifestyle changes and allow their patients to choose which approach they prefer.

According to recent estimates, there are around seven million people in the United Kingdom who are believed to use statins. This number is set to increase after NICE reduced the criteria for what the agency deems could benefit from statins last year.

People who have a 10 percent likelihood of suffering a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years can now have the option to use statins. This is a significant change from the previous threshold of 20 percent risk.

Members of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) and the British Medical Association (BMA), however, have expressed concern regarding the updated guidance from NICE despite the offer of cash payments to family doctors who will implement it.

The two medical organizations warned that it could place the integrity of quality outcomes framework for doctors at risk because of the 10 percent rule. They are also concerned that the rule change could lead some members of the population to become more susceptible to over-medicating.

The call of Malhotra and his colleagues has garnered support from some leaders of medical organizations.

UK Faculty of Public Health vice-president Simon Capewell said that following a healthy diet provides more effective and sustainable benefits compared to long-term statin use, especially for middle-aged individuals who wish to avoid developing heart disease.

In their article, Malhotra and his colleagues stated that around 80 percent of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom, is a result of lifestyle factors that can be modified, such as smoking, nutrition and physical activity.

The three health experts note that doctors should counsel their patients regarding the nature and benefits of following a healthy diet.

They pointed that having a moderated Mediterranean diet, with minimal processed food, can serve as a cardiovascular intervention. This particular diet has been tested in randomized trials and has resulted in a reduction in the occurrence of cardiovascular disease events.

Photo: Luca Vanzella | Flickr 

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