Amid mounting concerns about the lack of benefits associated with the cholesterol drug Niaspan, new researchers suggest that the common medication and other similar drugs designed to raise the levels of “good” cholesterol do not actually appear to help patients live longer lives.
In a study published by the British Medical Journal on July 18, researchers from Imperial College London looked at the final patient outcomes of Niaspan, fibrates and other drugs that are supposed to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is known as “good cholesterol.”
Researchers looked at data on 117,411 patients in 39 different randomized clinical trials. In many cases, the patients were already taking a popular class of drugs known as statins. The study found that the drugs did not improve patients’ lives or lengthen their lifespan. The only positive effect they found was that Niaspan was associated with a significant reduction in non-fatal heart attacks, but only if the patient was not taking a statin at the same time.
While Niaspan (niacin) and similar drugs increase HDL in hopes of preventing heart disease, statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor, lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is considered “bad” cholesterol. LDL builds up in blood vessels, forming a sort of plaque that restricts blood flow. HDL is believed to break down the LDL build ups. However, researchers said they do not see it doing any actual good.
“Neither niacin, fibrates, nor CETP inhibitors, three highly effective agents for increasing high density lipoprotein levels, reduced all cause mortality, coronary heart disease mortality, myocardial infarction, or stroke in patients treated with statins,” the researchers concluded. “Although observational studies might suggest a simplistic hypothesis for high density lipoprotein cholesterol, that increasing the levels pharmacologically would generally reduce cardiovascular events…substantial trials of these three agents do not support this concept.”
The findings came just a day after researchers from Oxford University in England published another study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which suggested that side effects of Niaspan may make it a poor heart drug. While some studies have found that the medication decreases the rate of heart attack, researchers in this other new study determined that Niaspan provided minimal benefit and carried too many health risks, such as an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers.