Barbara O’Neill falsely claims that statins increase risk of heart disease

By: Soham Shah
February 16 2024

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Barbara O’Neill falsely claims that statins increase risk of heart disease

Video of Barbara O’Neill on Facebook claiming that statins cause more harm than good. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)


The Verdict False

Multiple studies have shown that statins, a class of medications, are safe and beneficial for control of heart disease.

Claim ID ea68abbc

What is the claim?

In a viral video shared on Facebook, known health misinformation spreader Barbara O’Neill claims that statins do more harm than good to the heart. She says that statins reduce Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the body which results in more heart disease. The video has gained over 10.7k likes and 680 comments. An archived version of this video can be accessed here.

Video of Barbara O’Neill on Facebook claiming that statins cause more harm than good. (Source: Facebook/Modified by Logically Facts)

However, we found that this claim is false and that statins, a group of medications that can help lower blood cholesterol levels, are proven to be good for heart health in recommended groups.

What are statin drugs used for?

According to the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), “Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.” LDL cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

Statins may be prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with forms of CVD or whose personal and family history suggests that they are likely to develop CVD in the next 10 years. According to the NHS, some users may see “minor side effects like headache, diarrhoea, or feeling sick.” Penn Medicine, a clinical and research entity of the University of Pennsylvania, says that side effects include muscle pain, liver damage, increased blood sugar, and fuzzy thinking, but are all 100 percent reversible.

The United States Centers for Disease Control also says that people using statins are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes but clarifies that “even though there are risks with taking this medicine, there are greater potential risks if you don’t take them, like having a heart attack or stroke.”

Research shows that benefits outweigh risks

Multiple meta-analyses have shown over the years that statins are effective and their positive effects outweigh any side effects.

A 2017 study by the Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow said that statins reduced deaths by coronary heart disease by 28 percent. A 2018 study published in HSS Public Access said statins “have a potent lipid-lowering effect that reduces cardiovascular risk and decreases mortality.”

A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2021 concluded that “benefit-to-harm balance of statins is generally favourable”.

A 2022 systematic review published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that statin therapy for primary prevention of CVD was associated with reduced risk of mortality, adding that “benefits of statin therapy appear to be present across diverse demographic and clinical populations.”

As opposed to O’Neill’s claim, a 2017 study in JAMA showed some statins lead to a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, statins don’t cause memory loss either.

Advantage of statin therapy much greater, say experts

Dr. Gaurav Ganeshwala, consultant cardiologist at Ruby Hall Clinic Pune, told Logically Facts, “We have hundreds of studies that show that LDL cholesterol is responsible for blockages and is the single most important import factor responsible for these events. Statins reduce LDL cholesterol and again we have hundreds of studies showing their safety. Yes, they do have side effects of muscle pain but these are known side effects but the advantage of statin therapy is much greater.”

He added that statins are the gold standard for heart condition treatments and that patients with breast cancer, a disease that O’Neill mentions, are also at a greater risk of dying of heart disease, and that statin therapy is beneficial for them.

Dr. Ganeshwala also explained that while it is true that CoQ10 is a heart-protective enzyme, statins offer greater benefits than the risk arising from the reduction in CoQ10. Supplements of CoQ10 along with statins do not show clear benefits.

A Harvard Health Publishing article from 2015 also says that no strong evidence exists to support CoQ10 supplementation. In the same article, cardiologist Dr. Christopher Cannon, a professor at Harvard Medical School, explains that data says statins do not cause memory loss. 

In a 2018 post on University of California (UCLA) Health, Robert Ashley, MD, an internist and assistant professor of medicine at the university in Los Angeles, explained that statin drugs “have been repeatedly shown to lower cholesterol levels leading to decreased rates of atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.” 

However, he noted that side effects do occur, the most common of which is muscle pain. He further explained the hypothesis that reduction in CoQ10 leads to muscle aches, weakness, or inflammation but he does not mention heart failure. He also says that while some users have experienced relief from muscle pain by consuming CoQ10 supplements along with statins, there is no large-scale evidence to support this. 

Logically Facts has previously fact-checked false information by O’Neill. She has also been banned from providing medical instruction in Australia. 

The verdict

Scientific evidence shows statins are a safe and effective tool in the treatment of heart disease. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before