For millions of obese Americans who love to scarf down burgers featuring the nutritional value of a half pound of lard, a pill that lowers the risk of a heart attack might sound like a miracle. After all, don’t those aspirin ads that relate tales of people whose lives were saved by munching on a simple, inexpensive baby aspirin sound like a miracle? Imagine taking a cholesterol-lowering pill just before confidently digging into a supersized burger and fries.
In a U.K. based study, researchers found that a statin supplement, the same medication found in cholesterol drugs like Lipitor, could effectively counteract the effects of a Quarter Pounder® with cheese and a small milkshake. The essence of the argument was that for each meal, an amount of statin could be determined and distributed, along with little packets of ketchup, perhaps in powder form to be sprinkled on the offending food itself. The cost of these drugs is fairly negligible, as easily absorbed as the cost of condiments.
It’s a creative argument, but it raises several questions. One of the most powerful objections is the false sense of security such a measure would invoke. Feeling safer, people might choose to eat fast food more frequently. Fast food restaurants would probably jump on a proposal like this. They’ve gotten a bad rap in the past few decades as we’ve gotten fatter and unhealthier. The result has been salads and high-fat grilled chicken added to appeal to poorly informed consumers. You can even look up the alarming nutritional content for items on big chain menus. Even armed with this knowledge, people line up around the building to collect heart attacks in sack after sack.
So what’s wrong with this approach? Sprinkle-on statins may neutralize the atherogenic (high cholesterol and blood vessel damage) risk, making the meal a zero sum proposition, but the meal is still low-nutrition, high fat junk, and offering people inclined to unhealthy diets a “fix” does nothing to address the underlying problem.
I’ve been to many a diner selling Rolaids at the checkout counter, and this is potentially a similar situation. One day OTC strength statins may be handed out in minty-fresh chewable tablet form. Here’s your giant burger and supersized fries, sir, and please enjoy this peppermint Lipitor with our compliments. What’s your take? Good idea? Another nail in the piano-sized public coffin? Misguided research that is unlikely to ever bear fruit (or minty little after-dinner chewables)?