Researchers said Monday they found no evidence that the cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins can help extend the life of patients at risk of heart disease.
The analysis of 11 studies involving 65,229 people questioned the wider use of statins - the world's top-selling prescription drugs - in patients who do not have but could develop heart disease.
"There is little debate that, compared with placebo, statin therapy among individuals with established coronary heart disease not only prevents complications related to atherosclerosis but also reduces all-cause mortality (death)," University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke's Hospital researchers said.
But they noted "there is little evidence... statins reduce the risk of dying from any cause in individuals without heart disease. This, along with harms caused by statins in some subgroups, have called into question the benefit of statins" to prevent the development of heart disease.
Half the patients took statins as a preventative measure and half took a placebo. They received follow-up for an average of 3.7 years.
Of those 2,793 died, including 1,447 in the placebo group and 1,346 in the statin group. It is not a statistically meaningful enough difference to recommend preventative treatment with statins, the authors concluded.
AstraZeneca's Crestor was among the drugs studied in the meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.
"Current prevention guidelines endorse statin therapy for subjects at high global risk of incident cardiovascular disease as a means to reduce fatal and non-fatal vascular events," the authors said.
"Due consideration is needed in applying statin therapy in lower-risk primary prevention populations."