Very Low Cholesterol Is Safe
Researchers Say Statin Users Need Not Worry That LDL Is Too Low
Oct. 11, 2005 -- Just how low can you safely go when it comes to reducing your LDL "bad" cholesterol? Even lower than current guidelines say you should, a new study shows.
Patients taking high doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs need not worry that their LDL will drop too low, researchers from Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital report.
"It is clear that the LDL levels we are able to achieve with treatment are not dangerous," researcher Stephen D. Wiviott, MD, tells WebMD.
Don't Fear Low LDL
Guidelines released last year by the nation's top heart groups lowered target LDL cholesterol levels for people with a high risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
The move sparked concerns that the new target level of under 70 mg/dL might be too low, however. The researchers note that some other studies of people with low cholesterol -- but not on treatment -- have suggested an association between very low cholesterol levels and higher risk of death.
But the Harvard analysis found no relationship between cholesterol levels and these complications in recent heart attack patients taking the maximum dose (80 milligrams) of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.
More than 90% of the roughly 1,800 study participants saw their LDL levels drop below 100 mg/dL within four months of starting the treatment. Almost half of the patients achieved levels of 60 mg/dL or lower.
Those who achieved LDL levels of 60 and less had decreased major events such as second heart attack or stroke; they also had no more increase in serious side effects from the cholesterol medication than those with a goal of cholesterol levels between 80 and 100.
The findings are reported in the Oct. 18 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The finding "suggests the possibility that further LDL lowering beyond the new guideline optimal goal of less than 70 mg/dL may translate into an additional clinical benefit," the Harvard researchers wrote.
Statins Not the Only Option
American Heart Association president Robert H. Eckel, MD, says it is now clear that heart patients benefit from aggressive treatment to lower their cholesterol to target levels.