Statin Drugs: Heart Benefits Last Long
Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Turn Back Clock on Heart Disease
Lower LDL Cholesterol = Less Heart Disease, Death continued...
Because most doctors still thought statins should be prescribed for men with existing heart disease, fewer than 40% of the men used statin drugs after the study ended. Nevertheless, the researchers kept tabs on the men for another 10 years.
This gave them the chance to see whether statin treatment had any lasting benefit. It did. Men who got inactive placebo pills during the study had a 15.5% chance of heart attack or heart death 10 years after the study ended. Those who got five years of statin treatment had only an 11.8% chance of heart attack or heart death. They also had a lower risk of heart disease.
This doesn't mean that the men should have stopped taking statins. Although five years of treatment offered a long-lasting benefit, the men's heart attack and heart death rates were much lower during the time they were taking their medicine.
"This suggests to us that although the benefit of those years was not lost, one would continue to get benefit from taking the statins," Cobbe says.
The study eased concern that statin treatment might increase cancer risk.
"There has been a long-running controversy over whether statins increase other diseases. The one that has generated the most discussion is whether these drugs increase the risk of cancer," Cobbe says. "Here we have a chance to see the effect on cancer a decade after treatments were finished. And we saw no evidence at all of a cancer effect."
An End to Heart Disease?
It's not the first time a study has suggested that early reductions in LDL cholesterol prevent heart disease. NIH researcher Domanski points to a 2006 study that looked at people with rare mutations in a gene called PCSK9.
The PCSK9 gene encodes a molecule that reduces the number of LDL cholesterol receptors in the liver. Think of these receptors as cholesterol drains. They are the main way the body gets rid of bad cholesterol. The more of these receptors a person has, the lower that person's LDL cholesterol level.