Statin Drugs: Heart Benefits Last Long
Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Turn Back Clock on Heart Disease
Lower LDL Cholesterol = Less Heart Disease, Death continued...
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
"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
The study eased concern that statin treatment might increase cancer
"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.
The 2006 study showed that people who carried certain PCSK9 gene variants
had somewhat lower cholesterol levels than people with normal PCSK9 genes --
28% lower LDL for one gene variant and 15% lower LDL for another variant.
But because they had these relatively modest LDL cholesterol reductions from
the time they were born, people who carried the gene variants had far lower
risk of heart disease -- 88% lower risk for one gene variant, and 47% lower
risk for the other.
Moreover, Domanski points out, heart disease is almost unknown in people who
live in hunter/gatherer societies that traditionally consume few saturated
fats. Once these people adopt modern lifestyles, however, they have the same
risk of heart disease as people living in Western cultures.
"It is a very different thing to prevent heart disease than to prevent
cardiac events in people who already have heart disease," Domanski says.
"If you started lowering LDL cholesterol early -- before someone has
coronary artery disease -- you could get very big effects. The potential of LDL
lowering, instituted early in life needs, much more research."
Domanski isn't suggesting that we put statin drugs in the water supply. But
he does think a clinical trial of statin drugs, in a healthy group of people 30
to 40 years old, is worth the effort. If modest LDL cholesterol reduction early
in life could cut heart disease by 50% or more, the impact would be huge.