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Healthy People Apparently Benefit From Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

According to a new study, apparently healthy people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs can dramatically reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

The 18,000 men and women in the so-called Jupiter study had normal cholesterol levels, something that would not ordinarily have flagged them as being at high risk for heart disease.

But they all had elevated blood levels of C-reactive proteins - markers of blood vessel inflammation that can indicate atherosclerosis, or blocked arteries.

In the study, which was sponsored by the maker of the cholesterol-lowering drug rosuvastatin, half of the apparently healthy participants were given the medication while the other half received a placebo.

The statin drug had such dramatic effect, the Jupiter study was ended early, according to lead author Paul Ridker of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

"The fundamental finding was a nearly 50 percent reduction in heart attacks, 48 percent reduction in strokes, 48 percent reduction in bypass surgery or the need for angioplasty and we even saw a 20 percent reduction in all-cause mortality," said Paul Ridker. "That's extraordinary because these are effects that are actually larger than what we anticipate when we put patients on statin therapy because they have high cholesterol."

Dr. Ridker reported the findings of the study at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in New Orleans.

But some experts have concerns about the message people might take away from the study.

"It may be very headline catching to say, 'New test suggests everyone should be on statins,' but that's not what this study showed," said Sid Smith.

Sid Smith is past president of the AHA and a professor of cardiology at the University of North Carolina. He says that while the results of the study are impressive, guidelines need to be worked out for the use of statin medications.

"It's an excellent study and I think now we need to figure out how we fit this in with a group of other new tests that are available and come up with guideline strategies that will keep more people alive without having heart attacks and strokes," he said.

The males in the Jupiter study were 50 years of age and older and the women were 60 and older.

But Dr. Ridker envisions extending the use of statins to younger, seemingly healthy individuals to protect them against heart disease in the future.

"The idea that we might want to use statins in patients who are outside our guidelines is what this is about," he said. "And this study is a great confirmation of that."

The results of the study on the use the C-reactive protein test and statins was also published in The New England Journal of Medicine.