Statin Drugs: Not Just for High Cholesterol?
Research has also shown that statins may reduce the incidence of
How Do Statins Work?
Statins have been used primarily to treat high blood cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) especially when accompanied by low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" kind) can lead to
Statin drugs, which include
Statins have become the most popular cholesterol-lowering drugs, because they are highly effective and generally well-tolerated.
Statins Reduce Health Risks
Statins have been shown to help prevent first heart attacks as well as recurrent heart attacks. In addition, data gathered from numerous clinical trials conducted over a 10-year period have demonstrated that in addition to significantly reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks, statin drugs may also significantly reduce the risk of dying from a stroke.
Statins and Alzheimer's Disease
At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November 1999, Ben Wolozin, MD, PhD, of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, presented the results of a study examining the rates of Alzheimer's disease among 50,000 patients. His findings indicate that some statin drugs (lovastatin and pravastatin) may delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. However, other studies have not yet confirmed these findings, and additional research is needed to verify this potential effect of statin drugs.
Statins and Osteoporosis
A study published in
in 2000 suggested that statin drugs may favorably affect bone density in patients at risk for osteoporosis. The study showed that women over age 60 who took statin drugs had a 50% lower risk of bone
Statins and Kidney Disease
Statins may help protect kidneys. By lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and perhaps their ability to reduce inflammation taking statins may have beneficial effects on your kidneys.
Are Statin Drugs Safe?
Thus far, statin drugs as a class appear to be acceptably safe, even though at least one statin has been withdrawn from the market because of potentially dangerous muscle damage. Some potential side effects include:
Initially, there was concern that statin drugs could harm the liver. To date, it appears that this is generally not the case. Nevertheless, as a precaution, most physicians test their patients' blood prior to and periodically during treatment to be sure the liver is healthy and remains that way. In the vast majority of cases, any abnormalities that develop are completely reversed once the drug is discontinued.
Muscle Pain or Weakness
Rarely, patients may develop serious inflammation of the muscles, which is also reversible when the medication is discontinued. All patients taking statin drugs are warned of this potential complication and directed to immediately stop taking the drug and contact their doctor if they experience muscle pain, weakness, or flu-like symptoms. If muscle damage continues, release of muscle substances into the bloodstream can lead to serious or even permanent kidney damage.
Despite initial animal studies suggesting increased cancer risk, studies among humans have shown no significant increase in the incidence of cancer in people taking these drugs. This conclusion was reinforced by a 2005 study involving over 90,000 patients and showing no cancer excess. On the other hand, some observational studies have raised the possibility that use of statins may actually decrease overall risk of cancer.
Some reports have suggested that statin use may be linked to the development of peripheral neuropathy. This has not been proven and requires further research.
Heart Information Network
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed April 2009 by
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