Statin Drugs May Also Raise 'Good' Cholesterol

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A Comeback for HDL Therapy?

The study comes just months after drug giant Pfizer abandoned clinical trials on the drug Torcetrapib.

Heart disease experts had hoped the drug, designed to raise levels of HDL cholesterol in patients by up to 60 percent, would represent a blockbuster treatment for those with heart disease.

However, trials were halted after it was found that patients taking the drug experienced a higher risk of death than those who did not take it.

"Following the Torcetrapib cancellations, many people wondered whether 'good' cholesterol was, in fact, good," says Dr. Christopher Cannon, cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "This study is new, important information that brings HDL back to the table.

"It is very important for the public to know that raising HDL is good. Torceptrapib just did it the wrong way."

And raising patients' "good" cholesterol levels along with lowering "bad" cholesterol levels could represent the next step forward in saving the lives of patients.

"This is indeed the new wave of advance in preventive cardiology in the next five to 10 years," says Dr. Gregory Brown, professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The findings may also open the door to a renewed push for treatment with niacin -- a drug that has been shown to raise HDL levels 30 to 40 percent in heart disease patients.

Brown, who is currently working on a large clinical trial examining the impact of niacin therapy in combination with statins, says using niacin in combination with statins may further demonstrate the benefits of raising "good" cholesterol while lowering "bad" cholesterol in patients.

Niacin, however, has drawbacks. The main drawback is flushing -- a hot, sometimes itchy sensation that is accompanied by a reddening or blushing of the skin. But Brown says the drug company Merck is currently working on a drug that can inhibit some of this flushing.

Finding Could Affect Millions

The news that statins may contribute to better cholesterol levels in two ways would be good news for millions of patients. But in addition to new drugs, another important key to increasing HDL cholesterol could be an age-old prescription -- a healthier lifestyle.

"A healthy lifestyle, including not smoking, getting regular physical activity, weight loss and consumption of monounsaturated fats is still the standard doctor's orders to increase your HDL and protect your heart," Mosca says.

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