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One More Pill?

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If you’re already taking a few medicines, you might not welcome news that you should take yet another. But if a pill could save your life, you’d probably think about it.

The pills in question are statins, which are commonly used to treat high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol. Common brand-name statins include Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor, Lipostat, and Zocor. In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins have been shown in research to treat or help prevent related conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.

Results of a meta-analysis (combined analysis of several studies) on statins were published earlier this year in the journal Lancet, and they should be of considerable interest to people with diabetes. Researchers working in both England and Australia cooperated to investigate whether statins are as effective for people with diabetes as for those without diabetes. They combined data from 14 different trials of statin therapy involving nearly 19,000 people with diabetes (about 8% had Type 1 diabetes; the rest had Type 2) and compared the results in these people with those of the 71,000 trial participants who did not have diabetes.

The researchers concluded that a reduction of LDL cholesterol by 1 mmol/L (about 39 mg/dl – the standard US unit of measurement) in people with diabetes was associated with a reduction of death from all causes by 9%, and that the effects of statin therapy on people with diabetes are the same as on people without the condition. They also determined that using statins would prevent approximately one-third of heart attacks and strokes in people with diabetes. One of the researchers explained that it didn’t matter whether participants were “young or old, men or women, obese or not obese, had mild kidney disease or not.” It didn’t even matter what their starting LDL cholesterol level was – those with low LDL cholesterol benefited from the statins, too.

So, OK, maybe you don’t want to take another pill – but this one sounds like it’s at least worth a discussion with your doctor.

Originally Published November 10, 2010

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