How’s this for a scientific breakthrough? British medical researchers have found that adding a dash of cheap, over-the-counter statin drugs to a cheeseburger/milkshake meal could neutralize the cardiovascular risk associated with eating it. This is as guilt-free as eating fatty foods can be. Could this discovery revolutionize your burger business? Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs (trade names include Levacor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lipitor and Crestor) typically prescribed by cardiologists to help prevent heart attacks and strokes. They are widely used in the U.S., and are so common in Britain that one of them, Zocor Heart-Pro, has been available over the counter since 2005.
Their ubiquity there got doctors at Imperial College London thinking: “Hey, instead of administering these cholesterol fighters well after the damage has been done, why not have people take them concurrently while they consume fatty foods?” So they began to study the issue.
The results of their research were published in the August 15 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology. Here’s how the article’s abstract describes the study:
“The investigators compared the increase in relative risk for cardiovascular disease associated with the total fat and trans fat content of fast foods against the relative risk decrease provided by daily statin consumption from a meta-analysis of statins in primary prevention of coronary artery disease (7 randomized controlled trials included 42,848 patients). The risk reduction associated with the daily consumption of most statins, with the exception of pravastatin, is more powerful than the risk increase caused by extra daily fat intake associated with a 7 oz. hamburger with cheese and a small milkshake.
“In conclusion, statin therapy can neutralize the cardiovascular risk caused by harmful diet choices. Routine accessibility of statins in establishments providing unhealthy food might be a rational modern means to offset the cardiovascular risk.”
Were this to become a real-world option, it would turn the restaurant world on its head. Fast food would only be the starting point for usage of these no-harm-no-foul drugs. Restaurants of all stripes are primarily in the business of serving fatty foods, fat being what makes the food taste good in the first place. If a quick shake of a statin packet could make all the cholesterol go away, customers would order with abandon.
It would be a true miracle, of course, if the caloric impact would also disappear, but that’s not part of the deal with statins. Lead researcher Dr. Darrel Francis admits as much. “Statins don’t cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. It’s better to avoid fatty food altogether,” he says. “But we’ve worked out that in terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it.
“Everybody knows that fast food is bad for you, but people continue to eat it because it tastes good,” Dr. Francis adds. “We’re genetically programmed to prefer high-calorie foods, and sadly fast food chains will continue to sell unhealthy foods because it earns them a living.
“It makes sense to make risk-reducing supplements available just as easily as the unhealthy condiments that are provided free of charge,” Francis adds in building his case for giving away statins. “It would cost less than 5p (5 pence, about 7-8 cents) per customer—not much more different to a sachet of ketchup.”
“It’s ironic that people are free to take as many unhealthy condiments in fast food outlets as they like, but statins, which are beneficial to heart health, have to be prescribed.”
Only Zocor Heart-Pro is available in the U.K. over the counter. The others require a prescription. In the U.S. all statins require a prescription. So this development is not just around the corner. However, if it were to take place, it would be a shot in the arm for the restaurant industry like perhaps no other.
Dr. Francis’s research for this study was supported by a grant from the British Heart Foundation.