The side effects of Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor and other similar cholesterol drugs may lead to the development of osteoporosis when taken at high doses, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers from Austria report that a class of drugs known as statins could increase the risk of osteoporosis at higher doses, while preventing the same condition when taken at low doses.
In findings published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, researchers analyzed medical claims data in Austria from 2006 to 2007, to identify patients treated with statin drugs to reduce high cholesterol and calculated the daily average dose of six different types of statins.
The data included more than 350,000 patients who used statins. Nearly 12,000 were diagnosed with osteoporosis. These patients were compared with 7.5 million people who had not taken statins. Of those, 69,000 patients were diagnosed with osteoporosis.
According to the study, patients taking high doses of statins were three times more likely to develop osteoporosis compared to people not taking cholesterol lowering drugs. Researchers also found that patients taking lower doses of statins had a decreased risk of developing osteoporosis, though some statins simply had a higher risk of osteoporosis without the low dose benefit.
Taking 10 mg a day or less of statins was linked with up to a 60% reduction in the risk of osteoporosis. This depended largely on the type of statin and some statins had other dose thresholds.
Patients taking 40 mg of Zocor or more had an increased risk of osteoporosis, but below that level the risk was greatly reduced. Similarly, patients taking 20 mg or more of Lipitor or Crestor had an increased risk of osteoporosis.
“Our results show that the diagnosis of osteoporosis in statin-treated patients is dose-dependent,” the researchers concluded. “Thus, osteoporosis is underrepresented in low-dose and overrepresented in high-dose statin treatment, demonstrating the importance of future studies’ taking dose-dependency into account when investigating the relationship between statins and osteoporosis.”
Individuals who face an increased risk of osteoporosis already, such as women and older patients, should talk to their doctor first about monitoring their bone health, the researchers advised. They can also discuss possibly lowering their dosage if it will continue to also offer benefits in reducing their high cholesterol.
The researchers called for more studies to focus on how statins may lead to osteoporosis.
Cholesterol Drug Health Risks
There have been questions about the consequences of over prescription and overuse of statins for years, due to the large number of patients that would be prescribed cholesterol drugs like Lipitor and Zocor.
Many critics have raised concerns that statins are being pushed on the populace too heavily, in what is often referred to as the “statinization” of America. Those concerns came after guidelines issued by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, who indicated that statins are the only drugs doctors should prescribe to lower cholesterol and called for doctors to toss out
Statins are among the best-selling drugs in the United States, with $14.5 billion in combined sales in 2008. They use the liver to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. However, a number of studies have linked the drugs to an increased risk of potentially serious injuries, including muscle damage, kidney problems and diabetes.
All statins carry warnings about the potential risk of serious muscle injury, known as myopathy. The most severe form of the muscle damage is rhabdomyolysis, which may lead to severe kidney damage, kidney failure and death.
More recently, Lipitor, Crestor and other statins have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, leading the FDA to require new warnings in February 2012 about potential impact the medications may have on blood sugar levels. Studies have suggested that otherwise healthy individuals who begin taking statins to reduce their risk of heart disease, may actually face an increased risk of diabetes, which itself increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.