Studies show improving cholesterol drugs

November 15, 2011 2:54:14 PM PST
There are 13 million Americans who take cholesterol medications. All of them are trying to protect their arteries from blockages that could cause heart attacks, strokes or even death.

That is why there is such interest in news today about these cholesterol drugs from heart experts meeting in Orlando. They revealed studies giving us information on two of the most popular statin medications and there is also great excitement about a very promising new drug.

With cholesterol, remember, there is the good kind called HDL. You can think of the H as high or healthy. The bad one is LDL and you can think of the L for lethal and low to help you remember.

Statin drugs are the medications prescribed to better the cholesterol for millions of people. And they work.

Crestor and Lipitor, two of the most popular ones, work equally well, reducing plaque and lowering the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke.

"This is really wonderful news for patients with coronary disease as we try to reduce the burden of their disease and prevent the likelihood they'll have a heart attack or stroke," Dr. Stephen Nicholls, Cleveland Clinic, said.

Although both are effective, Dr. Nicholls and his researchers found Crestor did slightly outperform Lipitor when it came to lowering LDL or bad cholesterol. It also did slightly better in raising LDL or good cholesterol.

But again, both did equally well in reducing plaque. However, Lipitor is scheduled to be sold as a generic, and therefore will be cheaper before the end of the year.

The search for better drugs to treat both kinds of cholesterol continues.

One experimental drug emerged as a possible good candidate for the medicine cabinet and a person's cholesterol clogged arteries.

In an study, almost four hundred people were given the experimental drug called evacetrapib alone or combined with a statin. Another group in the study received just statins or a placebo for 12 weeks.

"This new drug was able to raise levels of good cholesterol, of HDL cholesterol by nearly 130 percent. The drug was also able to lower levels of the bad cholesterol LDL by 36 percent," Steven E. Nissen, M.D., Cleveland Clinic, said.

The drug has an added benefit.

"It didn't raise blood pressure, which had been a concern for drugs in this class. It was very well tolerated people did not have any abnormal side effects when taking this drug," Nissen said.

It may be a while before we can put evacetrapid in the medicine cabinet, even though it raised the good and lowered the bad, just as we would like. We need to prove that it can actually reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries and can also protect patients against the complications of abnormal cholesterol levels. That means other larger studies.