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 cholesterol-lowering drugs.
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 accident.
"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 treatment."
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 attack.
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 LDLcholesterol 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.