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I'll have a Big Mac and fries with a side of statins

August 13, 2010
  • Fast food meals should come with a side of statins to neutralize some of their health risks, according to British experts.
Fast food meals should come with a side of statins to neutralize some of their… (Joe Raedle/Getty Images )

Try to visualize it: You walk away from the counter at McDonald's carrying a Quarter Pounder with cheese and side order of fries on your tray. You cross over to the soda machine and fill a large cup with Coke. Then you visit the condiment bar and grab packets of ketchup, mustard ... and a statin?

This is the brilliant idea put forth by a group of British doctors and public health experts in next Sunday's edition of the American Journal of Cardiology.

The logic of their proposal is hard to refute. Although scientists have not worked out a precise formula to calculate how many minutes each Big Mac will shave off your life, there is little doubt that fast food -- with all its fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar -- is bad for one's cardiovascular health. By the same token, a low-dose statin (of the type that's available without a prescription in the U.K.) has only a cardiovascular upside. In fact, studies show that statins are beneficial even when they're not taken every day.

Whatever possible risk the statins might pose, "it cannot ... be reasonably argued on safety grounds that individuals should be free to choose to eat lipid-rich foods but not be free to supplement it with a statin," they wrote.

The Brits even gave some thought to the ability of fast food chains to handle the logistics of statin distribution.

"These companies already have an infrastrucure for providing a variety of condiments, including salt, tomato ketchup, and other sauces, none of which have any health benefits but are made available free of charge," they pointed out. "A generic statin could be added to the panoply of items in the self-service tray, at little marginal cost."

The authors emphasized that a side of statins would not magically turn an otherwise unhealthy meal into the equivalent of a large garden salad. Even assuming that the statin did a perfect job of counteracting the cardiovascular risk posed by a fast food meal, the calorie count would still mean an increased risk for obesity, they wrote.

To make sure that diners realize this, they also proposed that fast food packages contain a warning like the one plastered on packs of cigarettes. Their suggestion: "This meal increases your risk of heart disease and death."

-- Karen Kaplan/Los Angeles Times

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