The statins (or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) are a class of drugs that lower cholesterol levels in people.
They lower cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, which is the rate-limiting enzyme of the mevalonate pathway of cholesterol synthesis. Inhibition of this enzyme in the liver results in decreased cholesterol synthesis as well as increased synthesis of LDL receptors, resulting in an increased clearance of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) from the bloodstream. The first results can be seen after one week of use and the effect is maximal after four to six weeks.
Statins act by competitively inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, the first committed enzyme of the HMG-CoA reductase pathway. Because statins are similar to HMG-CoA on a molecular level they take the place of HMG-CoA in the enzyme and reduce the rate by which it is able to produce mevalonate, the next molecule in the cascade that eventually produces cholesterol, as well as a number of other compounds. This ultimately reduces cholesterol via several mechanisms.
Inhibiting cholesterol synthesis
By inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, statins block the pathway for synthesizing cholesterol in the liver. This is significant because most circulating cholesterol comes from internal manufacture rather than the diet. When the liver can no longer produce cholesterol, levels of cholesterol in the blood will fall. Cholesterol synthesis appears to occur mostly at night, so statins with short half-lives are usually taken at night to maximize their effect. Studies have shown greater LDL and total cholesterol reductions in the short-acting simvastatin taken at night rather than the morning, but have shown no difference in the long-acting atorvastatin.
Increasing LDL uptake
Liver cells sense the reduced levels of liver cholesterol and seek to compensate by synthesizing LDL receptors to draw cholesterol out of the circulation. This is accomplished via protease enzymes that cleave a protein called "membrane-bound sterol regulatory element binding protein", which migrates to the nucleus and causes increased production of various other proteins and enzymes, including the LDL receptor. The LDL receptor then relocates to the liver cell membrane and binds to passing LDL and VLDL particles (the "bad cholesterol" linked to disease). LDL and VLDL are drawn out of circulation into the liver and are digested.
Statins exhibit action beyond lipid-lowering activity in the prevention of atherosclerosis. The ASTEROID trial showed direct ultrasound evidence of atheroma regression during statin therapy.
- Improve endothelial function
- Modulate inflammatory responses
- Maintain plaque stability
- Prevent thrombus formation
Statins may even benefit those without high cholesterol. In 2008 the JUPITER study showed fewer stroke, heart attacks, and surgeries even for patients who had no history of high cholesterol or heart disease, but only elevated C-reactive protein levels. There were also 20% fewer deaths (mainly from reduction in cancer deaths) though deaths from cardiovascular causes were not reduced.
Statins have been linked to a marked reduction in prostate cancer, benign prostate enlargement, incontinence and impotence in older men.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011