There’s no doubt about it: Cholesterol drugs have helped save millions of lives. But should these medications be prescribed as preventative medicine for people who do not have cholesterol problems?
That’s the question being posed right now as a major drug maker gets ready to market its blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drug to the masses.
The marketing campaign comes after the Food and Drug Administration approved the expanded use of AstraZeneca's cholesterol pill Crestor in February. An FDA panel found it can benefit patients with healthy cholesterol levels by preventing heart attack, stroke and death. However, not everyone agrees.
According to a New York Times article, some experts suggest the “benefits may not outweigh the side effects.” The Times pointed to a recent study that found statins could raise a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 9 percent.
“It’s a good thing to be skeptical about whether there may be long-term harm from healthy people taking a drug like this,” Dr. Mark A. Hlatky, a professor of health research and cardiovascular medicine at the Stanford University Medical School, told the newspaper.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a New York City-based cardiologist, told FoxNews.com she understands why it’s being approved for healthy people because it’s based on results of a JUPITER study (Justification for the Use of statins in Primary prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin), which involved men over 50 and women over 60 who had normal cholesterol, but a C-reactive protein of 2 or more.
“The study showed taking Crestor lowered risk of heart attacks and heart disease in men and women of that age group, and it also showed it lowered C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation),” she said. "And inflammation, we now know, can promote plaque buildup in the walls of the artery.”
However, Goldberg still has her reservations.
“I’m a little concerned about statin therapy being approved for people outside of that age group,” Goldberg added. “If you’re 25 and have normal cholesterol, or 35 or 45, this doesn’t mean you should go on a cholesterol drug. Doctors still need to individually assess all of their patients on a case-by-case basis.”
As for statins raising the risk of Type 2 diabetes, Goldberg said the research is still emerging.