One Tiny Pill Takes on Heart Attack, Stroke, and Diabetes
Jan. 22, 2001 -- Every morning, Charles, a 61-year-old magazine editor who lives and works in Manhattan, pops a tiny pill that he knows will help him avoid a second heart attack. But now Charles -- and his doctors -- just found out that this little pill that helps prevent heart attacks may also protect him from developing diabetes or suffering a stroke. Powerful medicine from one little pill.
The pill Charles takes is one of a powerful class of drugs called statins. These drugs reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood -- especially LDL, the so-called 'bad' cholesterol. Charles and his doctors knew that high levels of LDL in his blood caused the build-up up of a hard, fatty deposit called plaque inside his arteries. Eventually, that plaque build-up cut off the blood supply to his heart, causing Charles to have a minor heart attack five years ago.
Taking the drug has dropped his LDL from 180 to 110, and now, he says, "I feel fine." When told that two new studies suggest that the statins fight both diabetes and stroke as well, he was pleased but not overwhelmed. "I'm glad to hear I'm not taking something that causes cancer," was his reaction.
Physicians are a bit more enthusiastic.
"I've worked with statins for about 10 years, and at first we were all very nervous and concerned about possible side effects. But there seems to be nothing but good news with these drugs," says Allan Gaw, MD, PhD, director of the Clinical Trials Unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. "First, we find that they reduce heart attacks, then they reduce second heart attacks. Then we find they reduce stroke, and now there are even some studies to suggest they can reverse osteoporosis or be useful in the treatment of cancer. Now, of course, this finding about diabetes. Good news again."
Gaw is the senior author of one of two new statin studies reported in the Jan. 23 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. According to his study, use of one of the statin drugs -- pravastatin -- is associated with a 30% decrease in the incidence of type 2 diabetes. The second study links pravastatin with a 22% reduction in strokes in patients who have already suffered from angina or had a heart attack.
Authors of the new studies say that these new findings can be applied only to pravastatin -- the only statin used in the studies -- for now, but they suggest that the findings may hold for other statin drugs as well.
Daniel Levy, MD, director of the Framingham (Mass.) Heart Study, tells WebMD, "I find it hard to believe that this is not a class effect." Levy was not involved in the studies.