The group of drugs called statins lowers low-density liproprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attack by as much as 50%, and stroke by 25%, but that’s not all.
Recent research suggests that statins have other remarkable health benefits, too – benefits that cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease patients can appreciate.
Can a Cholesterol Drug Do That?
Statins, which include atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor) and others, limit the amount of cholesterol produced in the liver. They have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that prevent cell and tissue damage. The majority of patients who take them experience few or no side effects, though the drugs can be dangerous for some.
More studies are needed before doctors can recommend taking statins solely for Alzheimer’s and cancer, but people with diabetes should ask about statin therapy.
The neurodegenerative disease known as Alzheimer’s affects 1 in 8 older Americans every year, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Large observational studies suggest that people who take statins may reduce their risk of getting Alzheimer’s by 30% to 70%. Statins also may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Patients who have Alzheimer’s disease accumulate higher-than-normal levels of amyoid proteins, which form gumlike insoluble plaque in the brain. The immune system detects this plaque and releases inflammatory molecules in an attempt to destroy it. Persistent inflammation damages surrounding brain cells without breaking down the plaque. Statins may reduce heart disease damage by controlling this inflammatory process.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 12,000,000 Americans have cancer. Statins may help prevent cancer. An Israeli study of 3,342 patients found that those taking statins were about 50% less likely to get colon cancer. Other studies indicate that statins can reduce the risk of prostate cancer by up to 56% and risk of breast cancer by 30%.
Statins may block the activation of an enzyme complex (proteasome) that breaks down proteins. Inhibiting this process may cause cancer cells to die rather than proliferate. It’s also possible that statins block cell signals that can trigger cancerous cell division.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 25.8 million Americans (nearly 8.5 percent of the population) are diabetics – at least those who are aware that they have the condition. Most diabetes patients should consider taking a statin drug, according to recent American Diabetes Association guidelines. The Heart Protection Study found that people with diabetes could reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke with statins, even if their cholesterol levels were normal. The guidelines recommend statins for diabetics over age 40 who have total cholesterol of 135 or higher.