Cheeseburger and a pill: to go!

Could it be that you might one day, in a moment of weakness, pull up to a fast food outlet, order a cheeseburger and be offered a free pharmaceutical to counteract what the cheeseburger does to you? This is the suggestion that has come from recently released research.

To arrive at this conclusion the researchers looked at the amount of saturated and trans fats that would be contained in a cheeseburger and fries meal. They then calculated the impact that would have on cholesterol. Their next step was to analyse research available on statins, a class of cholesterol lowering drugs. Their conclusion was that taking one statin pill could lower cholesterol by the same amount that the cheeseburger meal would raise it.

Based on these findings the researchers went on to say that, “Routine accessibility of statins in establishments providing unhealthy food might be a rational modern means to suffer the cardiovascular risk.” In fairness the researchers did point out that a drug is no substitute for a healthy lifestyle but the rationality of even raising the prospect of a “Would you like a pill with that?” strategy must be questioned.

To begin with, the idea of giving a drug to someone who is not sick is bizarre. One of the primary principles of medicine must be to first do no harm. While statins have their use they are not without side-effects. In a percentage of people, between one to five per cent, there will be muscle pain and weakness. In November 2009 the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency of the UK issued a warning about five “new” possible side-effects for statins including memory loss, depression, sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, and lung disease.

Despite the small likelihood of any one person experiencing these side-effects, the fact that the risk of side-effects exists means that healthy people, who happen to have chosen to have a cheeseburger, should not be offered something that could make them ill. Again: first do no harm.

Then there is the spurious sense of security that raising such an idea may give. Even floating such an idea will make some of us think, “Maybe I can just eat as badly as want to and counteract it with a pill.” In this particular case, statins only look at the cholesterol impacts of the cheeseburger meal. There is also salt that can raise blood pressure, calories that can add weight, and possibly sugar. Even beyond this is the issue of what you might have been eating which could have been much better for you and had positive health effects compared to the burger.

The “can I have a pill with that” philosophy is laughable but it could be the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. Indulging in harmful lifestyle choices and thinking you can remedy that with pharmaceuticals is perilous. It seems outrageous to suggest it, but why not live a healthy, happy, sustainable, productive life in the first instance?

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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