Questions Raised Over Popular Cholesterol Drug

A new study has shown that for people already taking statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, an expensive cholesterol medication is less effective at lowering cholesterol than the cheap vitamin niacin.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study is the third to raise questions about how effective two drugs manufactured by Merke and Co, Zetia and Vytorin, are. In the UK they are sold under the brand name of Ezetrol.

While statin drugs like Crestor and Simvustatin have been proved not only to lower cholesterol but reduce mortality rates for heart disease, the study claims that the two drugs do not prevent heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular problems.

Both are currently extremely widely prescribed in America, with doctors writing 29 million prescriptions them. Worldwide, sales have totaled more than $4.56 billion according to figures released by Merke. They are considered to be fairly expensive drugs so are generally used a last resort. Niacin is comparatively cheap.

Current guidelines recommend their use when someone’s cholesterol is not sufficiently lowered through statin use alone, or when a person can not take statins. They prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol from the food they eat, which is meant to prevent a build-up of cholesterol in the arteries.

Too much cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to build up in the arteries, known as ‘plaques’. They can block the flow of blood to the heart and eventually lead to heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular problems.

The study showed that while exetimibe did lower cholesterol it did not prevent the arteries from narrowing. However those people who were given the vitamin niacin, long used as a cholesterol treatment, saw not only their cholesterol levels improve but also their arterial thickness.

The pharmaceutical firm has refuted the findings of the study, with the vice-president Richard Pasternak saying, “I don’t think a clinician or a doctor or a patient should use this as a basis for any decision-making whatsoever. “I worry that people might unnecessarily come off a drug that is approved and accepted.”

By Suzana