Statin Drugs: Heart Benefits Last Long
Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Turn Back Clock on Heart Disease
Oct. 10, 2007 -- Men who took statins for five years had fewer heart deaths
and heart attacks 10 years later -- even though most had stopped taking the
The intriguing finding suggests that relatively small, early reductions in
bad LDL cholesterol can have very large benefits later in life.
Study investigator Stuart Cobbe, MD, professor of medical cardiology at the
University of Glasgow, Scotland, says the finding was something of an
"Almost by chance we had the opportunity to look at the long-term effect
of a five-year period of treatment with statins -- without further ongoing
treatment -- to see how that altered the trajectory of heart disease,"
Cobbe tells WebMD.
"The very interesting finding is the five-year treatment had a
beneficial effect that was clear 10 years later," Cobbe says. "We put
the clock back on coronary disease in the people who received
These results, taken together with other recent findings, are very exciting
to Michael Domanski, MD, chief of the atherothrombosis and coronary artery
disease branch of the National Institutes of Health. Domanski's editorial
comments accompany the study by Cobbe and colleagues in the Oct. 11 issue of
the New England Journal of Medicine.
"If you start early, and keep LDL cholesterol down over a lifetime, you
may be able to prevent heart disease," Domanski tells WebMD.
Lower LDL Cholesterol = Less Heart Disease, Death
The study by Cobbe and colleagues, called the West of Scotland Coronary
Prevention study, enrolled 6,595 middle-aged men with high cholesterol from
1989 through 1991. None of the men in the study had a previous heart
It was supposed to test a then-new idea: that Pravachol, one of the
cholesterol-lowering statin class of drugs, might prevent heart disease (other
statins available in the U.S. are Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor,
and Zocor). At the time, statins were prescribed only for patients who already
had heart disease.
Pravachol treatment cut their average LDL cholesterol levels by 26% --
from 192 mg/dL to 142 mg/dL. Over the five-year study period, these men had 31%
fewer heart attacks or deaths from heart disease.
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
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.