Statins are a group of medications used to decrease cholesterol in the body. This reduction is shown to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Recent research, however, is shedding a new light on the potential benefits of these drugs.
In a study involving more than 50,000 patients, statins showed a benefit in patients with atherosclerotic disease, or hardening of the arteries. Not only do the medications lower cholesterol, they have favorable effects on the blood vessels, kidneys, and bone. Statins were shown to decrease blood clot formation and scientists are linking statins to a reduced risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, prostate and colon cancer, bone fractures, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and osteoporosis.
Statins may also be useful for treating multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain kidney diseases. The issue at stake here is; the scientists are not exactly sure how they work to combat these diseases. What they do know for sure is statins have a proven track record in preventing strokes and heart attacks.
Researchers are speculating that cholesterol causes an increase of plaque buildup in the area of the brain damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Six published studies show a decrease in dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in those patients using a statin. They summarize that the decrease in cholesterol reduces the damaging plaque buildup in the brain.
The breast cancer studies have conflicting results with regards to cancer protection. Of the six published studies, four concluded no effect on beast cancer. One study showed a protective benefit but only after five years of taking the statin. Another study showed a large decrease in the risk of breast cancer in women over the age of 75.
Five different studies, involving more that 75,000 people, showed that taking statins reduced fractures. In four different studies, statin use was associated with a lower risk of hip and nonspine fractures. Conversely, several studies have also shown that statins have no effect on bode density or reduction of fractures.
Two studies looked at the effects statins have on the kidneys. Results show that the statins reduced the amount of protein in the urine. An excess amount of protein is released in the urine as a result of kidney damage. Another analysis showed a significant reduction in the loss of kidney function.
Only one study has examined the benefits of statins on multiple sclerosis. At the conclusion of the research, those who received the statin had a significant reduction on multiple sclerosis markers compared to those who took a placebo.
Statins have been used successfully for years and are well tolerated with few serious side effects. A rare but serious side effect presents itself with muscle pain and tenderness. Tell your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any unusual muscle soreness or weakness.
It is still too soon to advise doctors to prescribe these medications for treating anything other than high cholesterol. The research is too conflicting and there are still too many unanswered questions. Researchers are currently examining how cholesterol adversely affects several different disease states. They are looking into whether the lowering of cholesterol has a positive effect or if the benefit is directly due to the statin.