Statins are hailed as a “wonder drug” for lowering atherosclerosis-related events, such as strokes or heart attacks. Some researchers even support the use of statins in preventive therapy for cardiovascular disease. But statins are also associated with adverse side effects, such as muscle problems, an increased risk of diabetes, memory loss, anemia, immune depression, cataracts, and pancreas or liver dysfunction.
In a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Cell Physiology, researchers from the Tulane University School of Medicine explain why statins are useful in some cases. Researchers focus on the importance of weighing the risks when statins are considered for prevention.
Atherosclerosis develops from plaque accumulation from various substances, including fat, calcium, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Statins reduce the risk of atherosclerosis by lowering LDL cholesterol after cholesterol production is blocked in the liver. The immune cells, called macrophages, are also important in the rupture and plaque formation during atherosclerosis. Macrophages are thought to develop from bone marrow stem cells.
The Tulane research team previously found that macrophages also develop from mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are found throughout the entire body, and they can become all types of cells, including macrophages, muscle cells, cartilage, and bones. By contrast, bone marrow stem cells primarily turn into blood cells.
For the study, the Tulane researchers discovered that long-term statin use can prevent MSCs from becoming macrophages. This is important, considering plaque stability can be improved and inflammation reduced in cardiovascular disease patients. The statins prevented the transformation of MSCs into cartilage and bone cells. Statins also elevated the aging and death rate of MSCs, and lowered the MSC DNA repair function.
Researchers conclude that although statins benefit atherosclerosis, the effect they have on stem cells make them an inappropriate prevention method for people without cardiovascular disease.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Izadpanah, R., et al., “The Impact of Statins on Biological Characteristics of Stem Cells Provides a Novel Explanation for Their Pleotropic Beneficial and Adverse Clinical Effects,” American Journal of Physiology – Cell Physiology July 29, 2015, doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00406.2014.
“New Research Shows Why Statins Should Be Viewed as a Double-Edged Sword,” American Physiological Society web site, August 12, 2015;http://www.newswise.com/articles/new-research-shows-why-statins-should-be-viewed-as-a-double-edged-sword.
“Do You Take Any of These 11 Dangerous Statins or Cholesterol Drugs?” Mercola.com, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/07/20/the-truth-about-statin-drugs-revealed.aspx, last accessed August 13, 2015.