Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Many statin users cut their dose owing to muscle pain and other side effects. But the cholesterol-lowering pills may also be linked to a higher risk of impaired senses, such as poor vision. Recent findings have confirmed the link between the lipid-lowering drug and cataracts. The results, however, should not dissuade users to continue treatment, according to the authors.
The recent findings reinforce previous evidence that statin medications may increase the risk of cataracts.
Jonas Ghouse, a fellow in the cardiac genetics group at the Laboratory for Molecular Cardiology in the department of biomedical sciences at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, led the study.
He said: “We were not able to find any association between newer non-statin, lipid-lowering medications and cataract risk, so this effect is likely specific to statins.
“However, it’s important to stress that the benefits of statins for lowering levels of low-density lipoproteins in people who have high blood cholesterol levels completely outweigh the small risk of cataracts, and cat acts surgery is safe and effective.”
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According to the Mayo Clinic: “Most cataracts develop when ageing or injury changes the tissue that makes up the eye’s lens.”
Over time, cloudy patches on the lens can become bigger causing blurry, misty vision and eventually blindness, according to the NHS.
In 2014, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology suggested people taking statins have a 27 percent increased risk of cataracts.
No studies to date have proven a causal effect – only that the drug is linked with an increased risk of developing the eye condition.
The new research, however, may be the first of its kind to discover that certain genes that act similarly to statins, could independently increase cataract risk.
In other words, the team found that people with a specific genetic variation may be at increased risk of declining cataracts.
Mr Ghouse noted: “We were able to establish a link between genetic variants that mimic inhibition of HMGCR and the development of cataracts.”
Statin medicines work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMGCR.
According to previous research, variants in the HMGCR gene region of the human genome affect how the body metabolises cholesterol.
The HMGCR genetic risk score identified people with a higher risk of cataract and cataract surgery.
Results showed that each 38.7 mg/dL reduction in LDL cholesterol by the genetic score was associated with a 14 percent increased risk of cataracts.
What’s more, this same reduction in LDL cholesterol by genetic scores was linked to a 25 percent risk of cataract surgery.
When focussing on mutations of the gene, specifically the loss-of-function mutation, the findings were even more surprising, according to Mr Ghouse.
He noted: “The main difference between the two analyses is that loss-of-function mutations are really more detrimental than common variants, meaning they mimic change that is often induced by medications.”
“Simply put, the loss-of-function mutation in the HMGCR gene equals taking a statin medication.”
Participants who carry the loss-of-function mutation were four-and-a-half times more likely to develop cataracts and more than five times as likely to have cataract surgery, compared to non-carriers.
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