Beyond the coronary arteries: Possible benefits of statin drugs Part II: Specific syndromes

Published: May, 2011

The statins are the best-selling prescription drugs in the United States. That's no surprise, since heart disease is America's leading cause of death, and the statins can reduce the risk of heart attacks and other major cardiac events by up to 37%, with the greatest benefit going to the men at highest risk.

All seven statin drugs act in the same way, by inhibiting the liver enzyme that's responsible for cholesterol production; when the enzyme is blocked, liver cells make less cholesterol, and blood levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol fall. But the drugs have another benefit: as cholesterol production falls, the liver takes up more cholesterol from the blood, so blood levels fall even further. The statins produce only small elevations in HDL ("good") cholesterol, and only two, atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor), lower triglycerides to an important degree.

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