The Healthy Geezer: All About Statins

[Today's column is the first in a two-part series about statins. Statins are worth two columns because so many seniors take them. In our second column, how the body makes and uses cholesterol is discussed.]

Statins, which are also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, are drugs that lower cholesterol by blocking the liver substance responsible for making cholesterol. Statins may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has accumulated on your artery walls.

Some of the best-known statins include simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and fluvastatin (Lescol).

In addition to reducing cholesterol, there are other advantages to taking statins.

Statins are known to prevent subsequent heart attacks and strokes in patients who've already suffered one of these cardiovascular events.

Increasing evidence suggests that statins are anti-inflammatory. This property helps stabilize the lining of blood vessels, which could help the entire body.

Stabilizing blood vessel linings reduces the risk of heart attack by preventing plaques on the linings from forming clots that can lead to a heart attack.

Statins relax blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure.

Doctors are prescribing statins before and after coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty, and some strokes because statins reduce the risk of blood clots.

Other possible benefits of statins under study include:

  • Prevention of arthritis, bone fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Cancer prevention. Statins may lower the risk of colorectal and skin cancers. Researchers have found that statins may help control the start of tumors, their growth and the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
  • Reduction in the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Protection of the kidneys. Statins may help protect kidneys through their effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and perhaps their ability to reduce inflammation.
  • Assistance in controlling the body's immune-system response after an organ transplant.
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Antioxidant properties of statins. Preventing oxidation of LDL cholesterol can decrease plaque formation.

More news about statin studies:

  • Elderly people who've suffered a recent stroke benefit almost as much from treatment with a statin as do younger stroke patients.
  • An Israeli study found a 45 percent lower death rate among those who took statins at least 90 percent of the time, compared to those taking the medications less than 10 percent of the time.
  • Treatment with rosuvastatin was found to reduce heart attack and stroke by 44 percent among participants who had normal levels of LDL cholesterol but elevated levels of an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein (CRP).
  • A study found that relatively healthy people who took a statin were 43 percent less likely than those who took a placebo to get a blood clot known as venous thromboembolism. The kind of clot, which often develops in the legs, can be fatal if it travels to the lungs.
  • Statins may occasionally cause double-vision, eyelid-droop and weakness of the muscles that control eye movement.
  • Rare cases of memory loss have been reported in people taking statins.
  • There have been reports of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in people taking statins. There is no solid evidence that statins cause or trigger ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a serious degenerative neurological disorder.

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Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."