Statins safely combat blood pressure and those who listen to previous warnings about the drugs are putting themselves at risk of heart attack and stroke, a study has found.
The medical journal the Lancet, which published the findings, said it wanted to "correct the public record about the safety and efficacy of statins", after a misleading 2013 study made a discredited claim that 20 per cent of statins users suffered side-effects, whose harms were exaggerated.
Following that publication, about 200,000 patients stopped their treatment, resulting in an estimated 2,000 extra heart attacks, the Times reported.
Professor Liam Smeeth, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Times: "This is really serious stuff. I'm all for debate but the problem with statins is that misleading claims are not supported by scientific evidence. We know these have influenced both clinicians and patients."
The new study collated results from 100,000 patients in which patients got the statins or a placebo. It found that for every 10,000 people taking statins for five years, among those at highest risk 1,000 serious heart attacks or strokes would be prevented.
It is likely to raise a debate about the responsibility medical journals bear in publishing studies. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet compared the harm done to public confidence by critics of statins to that caused by the paper his journal published on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in 1998.
"Controversy over the safety and efficacy of statins has harmed the health of potentially thousands of people in the UK. After publication of disputed research and tendentious opinions about statin use . . . patients already taking statins were more likely to stop their medication."
David Webb, president of the British Pharmacological Society, said consultants would often struggle to persuade patients of the value of taking statins.
"In recent years, those of us who manage the large number of patients at excess risk of heart disease and strokes have been fighting an uphill battle to persuade them to take statins, a class of medicines that have been repeatedly shown to save lives," he told The Guardian.