We’ve written quite a bit about statins because there is evidence that these plentiful and cheap drugs may be useful in treating or preventing the innate immune system’s catastrophic dysregulation sometimes called “cytokine storm” (see here, here, here, here, here for a few examples). A new study now suggests that daily statin use by people under 75 may also lead to a significant (40%) reduction in cataracts. This from a study in Epidemiology of 180,000 patients seen between 1998 and 2007 in Israel:
Dr. [Gabriel] Chodick and his colleague Dr. Varda Shalev found that men aged 45 to 54 who took the statins daily to lower their cholesterol levels also lowered their chances of developing cataracts by 38%. For women of about the same age, the risk for cataracts was also cut dramatically, by about 18%.
Dr. Chodick has been studying the health benefits of statins for years. One of his recent studies, featured as part of a Time magazine cover story, showed that statins can reduce a person’s chance of dying from all combined diseases and conditions by 40% — something in the medical community called “all-cause mortality.” (ScienceDaily)
OK. This researcher is a statin enthusiast. I’m not quite convinced by the “all cause” story since people who take statins differ in lots of ways from those who don’t. But disease specific results are more convincing and I’m inclined to give some credence to the cataract story. While statins have a pretty good safety profile, they aren’t completely harmless. Like another common and cheap drug with a myriad of benefits, aspirin, some people run into deadly trouble with them on occasion and muscle aches and raised liver enzymes are not rare. Occasionally someone has impaired statin metabolism which allows high levels to build up and the muscle effect is much worse, sometimes leading to massive skeletal muscle destruction, which can be fatal.
The main medical use is to lower your cholesterol and they work by competitive inhibition of an enzyme, HMG-CoA [3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl-CoA] reductase. The statins look like, but aren’t identical to, the HMG-CoA substrate, which means they can tie up some of the enzyme but not produce the next chemical in the pathway, mevalonate. Mevalonate is at the head of a cascade that produces cholesterol, among other things. Yes, you manufacture cholesterol in your body. Most of your blood cholesterol isn’t from diet but is stuff you make yourself in your liver, mainly at night. When you make less cholesterol your liver freaks out and and starts to make more LDL (so-called “bad cholesterol”) receptors on the cell surface and this mops up more circulating LDL. A pharmacologic double whammy.
I take statins every day for its cholesterol lowering effect. It’s been pretty effective for that, lowering my cholesterol from 220 to 170 in a month.
It’s nice if they have other benefits too. As long as they don’t kill me in the process.