Cholesterol Watch

Published Online: Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Can Statins Help Treat the Flu?

A study reported at the 47th annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in October shows that commonly prescribed statin therapies may do more than lower cholesterol— they may also fight the flu.

The study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved 2800 hospitalized patients with confirmed cases of seasonal flu in 10 states, 801 of whom received statins while in the hospital. Of the patients not taking statins, approximately 3% died in the hospital or during the following month; among those taking statins, the death rate was approximately 1.5%. The benefit of statin use held even when other factors such as age were taken into account.

Statins are known to reduce inflammation as well as cholesterol, and earlier studies found that these medications improved survival in cases involving pneumonia and bacterial bloodstream infections.


Low Cholesterol May Reduce Cancer Risk


The findings of 2 recently reported studies indicate that lower blood cholesterol levels may play a role in reducing cancer risk.

In the first study, 29,000 Finnish men were followed for 18 years. Researchers found that although individuals with cholesterol levels below the recommended 200 mg/dL had an 18% higher overall risk of cancer, they concluded that the finding was the result of undiagnosed cancers discovered during the early years of the study. In addition, men with higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol had a 14% lower cancer risk over the length of the study.

In the second study, investigators found that among 5500 enrollees in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, participants who had cholesterol levels <200 mg/dL had a 59% lower risk of developing prostate cancer in its most dangerous form. Both studies were reported in the November issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.


Vascular Surgery Patients See Benefits with Statins

Physicians may one day be able to predict which patients will develop heart disease with new tests that measure individual particles of low-density lipoprotein (LDL; “bad”) cholesterol. The researchers noted, however, that the tests still need further analysis.

Although several companies have developed more refined tests that measure the size and concentration of individual LDL particles, clinicians believe that smaller LDL particles are more dangerous because they can easily become embedded in artery walls, forming clots that may break off and result in a heart attack or stroke.

The researchers looked at data from 24 published studies that found an association between LDL particle concentrations and heart disease. The researchers found that in all the studies, the higher the LDL particle number, the greater the risk for heart disease, despite the levels of other fats, according to a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.


Cardioprotective Bundle Prevents Heart Attack and Stroke

A program that bundled 2 generic, low-cost drugs—a cholesterol-lowering statin and a blood pressure–lowering drug—given daily to 68,560 patients with diabetes or heart disease over 2 years is estimated to have prevented 1271 heart attacks and strokes in the first year following the study period, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published online in The American Journal of Managed Care.

Whereas previous research and clinical trials have shown that statins and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors/ angiotensin receptor blockers individually reduce heart attacks and strokes, this is the first study to evaluate whether the drugs could be delivered combined to large numbers of patients with diabetes or heart disease in realistic settings across a health care delivery system.

The 3-year clinical observational study found that offering 40 mg of lovastatin and 20 mg of lisinopril daily for 2 years to individuals not already on both drugs reduced their risk of hospitalization for heart attack or stroke the following year by >60%. Lead study author R. James Dudl, MD, said that this program “can be applied in many settings to reduce heart attacks and strokes, and at the same time decrease the cost of care for those events.” ■


FAST FACT: Many “low-cholesterol” foods contain high levels of saturated fat and/or trans fat— both of which contribute to high blood cholesterol.


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