Study: Statin Treatment Affects Blood Cells Differently Than Muscle Cells

Earlier studies have suggested that statins can potentially benefit some forms of cancer and dementia, meaning investigators could design drugs based on these beneficial effects.

Contrary to expectations, investigators have found that treatment with statins has different effects on blood cells and muscle cells, according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen. The investigators say these results could help design drugs for a number of conditions besides elevated cholesterol.

Although they are commonly used to lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease and blood clots, treatment with statins can also have negative adverse effects (AEs), including myalgia. These severe AEs can reduce patients’ quality of life due to increased pain and inactivity, and can have a large impact on medication adherence, according to the researchers.

The study authors explained that statins inhibit the production of cholesterol in the cell, although statins also inhibit an important element of energy production in the cells’ mitochondria. This lowering of energy is believed to contribute to myalgia in muscle cells.

Based on these concerns, the researchers aimed to determine whether statins also inhibit energy production in blood cell mitochondria. Following their research, however, they were surprised to find that statins did not have the expected effect.

“We can see that long-term treatment with statins at the recommended dose increases the blood cells’ ability to produce energy,” said Lene Juel Rasmussen, PhD, executive director and professor at the Center for Healthy Aging. “These are surprising results. We had expected statins to behave the same way that they do in muscle cells, but in fact they do the exact opposite here.”

Although these results challenge the theory that statins lower the energy level, the authors said this does not necessarily mean that they do not have AEs on some organs. Notably, the results do not specify whether the statins are responsible for affecting the energy level or if the body does this to compensate for the change caused by the statins, according to the study authors.

“Statins are quite mysterious, as they can have both positive and negative consequences depending on the part of the body,” Rasmussen explained. “Our results show an increase in the energy level in the blood cells, but whether that is good or bad, we cannot say. It can either mean that the statins improve the blood cells’ ability to produce energy, which would be a good thing, or that the statins do damage and that the body consequently raises the energy level to mend that damage.”

Rasmussen said earlier studies have suggested that statins can potentially benefit some forms of cancer and dementia. If more research confirmed this, investigators could design drugs based on these beneficial effects.

REFERENCE

Muscle Pain and Energy-Rich Blood: Cholesterol Medicine Affects the Organs Differently [news release]. University of Copenhagen Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences; October 28, 2020. https://healthsciences.ku.dk/newsfaculty-news/2020/10/muscle-pain-and-energy-rich-blood-cholesterol-medicine-affects-the-organs-differently/. Accessed October 30, 2020.