Statins Cut Gallstones Risk
Cholesterol-Reducing Drugs Cut Need for Gallbladder Removal Surgery in Women
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 16, 2007 (Philadelphia) -- Once again, research suggests that the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are good for more than the heart -- they also cut gallstone risk.
In a study of more than 50,000 participants in the Nurses Health Study, women who took statins, particularly those who had diabetes, were less likely to have gallstones that required surgical removal of the gallbladder than those who didn’t take the drugs.
The study suggested that overall, current statin use slashed the risk of having gallbladder removal surgery by 18% -- no matter how long a woman had been taking the drug.
Women with diabetes who had been taking statins for two or more years reduced their risk of surgery by 75%, however, while those who had been taking them for less time had a 33% reduction in risk, compared with nonusers.
The main reason people have their gallbladders removed is to prevent painful gallstone attacks and possible complications, including inflammation and infection of the gallbladder and inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis.
Statins used to treat high cholesterol include Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.
Further Statin Study Needed
Researcher Chung-Jyi Tsai, MD, ScD, of the division of digestive diseases and nutrition at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, says the striking reduction in risk among women with diabetes makes sense.
“Statins improve insulin resistance in people with diabetes but not in nondiabetics,” he tells WebMD. Since insulin resistance is a known risk factor for diabetes, it is not surprising that people with diabetes would reap the biggest benefits, he says.
How do statins reduce the risk of disabling gallstones that require surgery in people without diabetes?
The jury’s still out on that, too, but Tsai suspects it’s because they can reduce cholesterol in the bile, the substance produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder and then released into the intestine to help digest fat.
Too much cholesterol in the bile can cause gallstones, he explains.