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Move Over Statins, A New Drug is Coming to Town

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High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Chances are that if you have high cholesterol, sooner or later your doctor is going to discuss whether or not statin therapy is right for you.

Designed to lower cholesterol levels, statin drugs accomplish this goal in two ways. Firstly, statin drugs operate by acting as a blocking agent, preventing substances that your body needs to make cholesterol work.

Secondly, statins help your body reabsorb existing blood cholesterol. This reabsorption works to prevent artery blockage which can lead to a heart attack. Some of the most well-known statin drugs include Lipitor, Zocor, Mevacor, Pravachol and Crestor.

While statins lower cholesterol, they aren’t without side effects and risks, some of which are quite serious. Some people experience nausea and diarrhea while others may become constipated.

One of the most common complaints while on statin therapy is muscle and joint aches. These symptoms may or may not go away. More serious side effects include liver damage, higher blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes. Others may experience statin myopathy or muscle pain and tenderness.

It’s possible for statins to cause muscle cells to break down, releasing proteins into the blood that damage the kidneys. Statins can also cause memory loss and confusion.

Although it’s not yet been conclusively proven, some research indicates that statins may be associated with the development of Lou Gehrig’s ALS disease.

Because of the side effects, many people choose not to take statins and turn to lifestyle changes or alternative remedies to lower cholesterol levels. Some people, approximately 5–10 percent, aren’t able to tolerate the side effects of statins at all, particularly in the higher doses.

Since statin therapy dominates the treatment field, those who can’t tolerate statins are left with few alternatives. However, clinical trials are currently underway for a new cholesterol-lowering therapy, REGN727, that may change the way high cholesterol is treated.

According to lead author Dr. Evan A. Stein, director of the Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Research Center in Cincinnati, REGN727 is a “promising alternative” to statin therapy. In clinical trials, REGN727 has been shown to be more effective than current statin therapy.

Researchers found REGN727 was 65 percent more effective than placebos and participatns were still seeing cholesterol-lowering benefits over two months after treatment. Even study participants already on statin therapy reaped benefits when REGN727 was added, exhibiting a 40-70 percent reduction in the LDL cholesterol.

Study participants also reported fewer side effects with REGN727 as compared to statins. Noticeably absent from the list of side effects was liver damage and muscle weakness.

REGN727 functions by blocking a naturally occurring protein that’s produced in the liver. This protein works to limit how much cholesterol the liver is able to remove from the blood.

Despite the promising results, REGN727 is still a long way from being approved for use. More trials are certain to follow. In the meantime, for people who can’t tolerate statin therapy, or simply don’t want to take statins, lifestyle changes remain one of the most powerful tools we have to lower cholesterol levels.


Nicholas Bakalar. Drug to Cut Cholesterol Tests Better Than Statin. The New York Times. 26 Mar 2012.

Peter Crosta, M.A. What Are Statins? How Statins Work and the Side Effects of Statins. Medical News Today. 16 Apr 2009. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8274.php

Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you? The Mayo Clinic. 13 Mar 2012.

Reviewed March 29, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jessica Obert

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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