Statins are a recently developed drug prescribed to thousands of susceptible people in the UK to help reduce the risk of further heart attack. But the results of a two-year US trial have made some experts wonder if it's their cholesterol-lowering benefits that are the key, as previously thought.
The trial was conducted by pharmaceutical partners Merck and Schering-Plough to test the ability of a drug called ezetimibe. This is prescribed as an add-on to statins when statins alone aren't reducing 'bad' LDL cholesterol sufficiently, or when the patient suffers side-effects from statin.
Ezetimibe has been shown in previous trials to reduce LDL, which is believed to alleviate the thickening of arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke. But in the Enhance trial, while the LDL was reduced, thickening of the arteries remained the same in the group on a statin topped up with ezetimibe as in the group on a statin alone.
As a result, some cardiologists are beginning to question whether it's the LDL-reducing capabilities of statins that is the real reason they appear to reduce incidence of heart attack and stroke.
Statins also increase 'good' HDL cholesterol, lower a type of fat called triglycerides and reduce a measure of inflammation called CRP. So it could be a combination of actions that leads to the reduction of cardiovascular 'events'. Or it could be the mechanism by which they're delivered. It may not be just the lowering of LDL that's improving health.
Please note: Medication should not be discontinued without discussion with your GP or specialist first.