Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cholesterol & Triglycerides Health Center

Font Size

Statins Cut Gallstones Risk

Cholesterol-Reducing Drugs Cut Need for Gallbladder Removal Surgery in Women
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Statins Gallbladder

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.

Tsai stresses that the study doesn’t prove that statins prevent gallstones and that further research is needed.

Phillip Jaffee, MD, of the Gastroenterology Center of Connecticut in Hamden, and a member of the committee that chose which stories to highlight at the meeting, tells WebMD that until the findings are confirmed in other large, well-designed studies, women with diabetes should not take statins to prevent gallstones.

The study included 53,611 female nurses who were free of gallstones in 1994. Every two years, the women were asked whether they took cholesterol-lowering drugs and if they had undergone gallbladder surgery, which Tsai says is a surrogate for gallstones.

By 2000, 2,414 women who did not take statins and 167 women who took statins had gallbladder surgery.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

Get the latest Cholesterol Management newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

cholesterol lab test report
Article
Compressed heart
Article
 
Compressed heart
Article
chocolate glazed donut and avocado
SLIDESHOW
 
Heart Foods Slideshow
Slideshow
Cholesterol Fact or Fiction
Quiz
 
Food & Fitness Planner
TOOL
Attractive salad
ARTICLE
 
Heart Disease Overview Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
worst sandwich slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
Fat Foods Fit Foods
SLIDESHOW
Bad Cholesterol
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections