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Thousands more heart attacks predicted because of Catalyst


There could be an extra 3000 heart attacks and strokes in the next five years as a result of controversial claims regarding cholesterol and statins in the ABC’s Catalyst program, according to the Heart Foundation.

In a result it said was “frightening”, the Foundation found that almost one in 10 people it surveyed who were on cholesterol-lowering medication reported that they had stopped taking statins as a direct result of watching or hearing about the program.

The finding underlines fears that claims made in the show regarding the danger posed by high cholesterol and the doubts it cast over the efficacy of statins could put lives at risk.

Doctors have reported being inundated with inquiries from patients currently taking statins following the Catalyst broadcast, and the ABC’s own medical expert Dr Norman Swan blasted the show, warning that “people will die as a result…unless people understand at heart what the issues are”.

The Heart Foundation survey of 1094 people on cholesterol-lowering prescriptions, conducted last month, found that the ABC program had caused many taking statins to be confused or anxious about their medication.

Almost 30 per cent said they were initially confused, worried or scared they were taking unnecessary medication after watching the program, a quarter said they had seen their GP about their prescription since the program was aired, and more than a fifth had changed their pill-taking regime, either cutting out statins altogether, reducing the number they take, or stopping and then restarting their use.

Disturbingly, a quarter of those who have changed their use of statins as a result of the show have previously suffered a heart attack or stroke and are considered to be at high risk of a repeat episode.

The Foundation’s National Director of Cardiovascular Health Dr Robert Grenfell said the Catalyst program had created a lot of confusion and uncertainty about taking statins, and thousands of lives had potentially been put at risk as a result.

“If we look at these survey results as being representative of the whole population, there are potentially 55,000 Australians who have stopped their medication as a direct result of the show,” Dr Grenfell said.

“Around 40 per cent of people who completely stopped their medication have either had a heart attack or stroke, have heart disease, or have two risk factors – high blood pressure and diabetes.

“The frightening reality is, if many of these people stay off their medication, we could potentially be looking at as many as 2000 or more heart attacks and strokes over the next five years, and that’s a very conservative estimate.”

Underlining the reach of the program, the survey indicated that about one in three of the 2.1 million Australians taking lipid modifying medication (about 650,000 people) had either watched the Catalyst program, or had read or heard about it.

The Foundation estimated that about 150,000 patients taking statins had seen their GP about their medication as a result of the program, and 130,000 had altered their regime, including around 40,000 who had stopped taking their pills altogether, 45,000 who had stopped and then restarted, and thousands more who had reduced their intake.

Medical studies have shown that taking statins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 per cent in people at elevated risk.

Dr Grenfell said it was encouraging that a significant proportion had seen their doctor to talk about their medication, rather than just change it themselves.

The producers of the program have come under intense criticism for presenting only a narrow view of the debates, discussions and research about cholesterol and statins in the global medical community, and for failing to disclose the commercial interests of several people cited on the program who are marketing “alternative” products.

The ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Unit is reviewing about 80 complaints made about the program, and is expected to announce its findings before Christmas.

Adrian Rollins


Since hearing, reading about or watching the Catalyst program “Heart of the Matter”, have you:

Stopped taking your cholesterol medication

9 per cent

Stopped but then restarted taking your cholesterol medication

9 per cent

Reduced the number of cholesterol medications you were taking

4 per cent

Started taking natural remedies

10 per cent


Source: Heart Foundation