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Statins Could Extend Life

FILE - This Nov. 15, 2005 file photo shows 40 milligram tablets of Lipitor, one kind of statin used for lowering blood cholesterol, in Glen Rock, New Jersey.
Statins, long prescribed to those with high cholesterol, may actually prevent aging and extend lifespan, according to new research in the September 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal.

The research indicates that statins reduce the speed at which telomeres shorten, a key factor in the aging process. A telomere is a region of DNA strand at the end of a chromosome that protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration.

“Statins may represent a new molecular switch able to slow down senescent [aging] cells in our tissues and be able to lead healthy lifespan extension," said Giuseppe Paolisso, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Internal Medicine, Surgical, Neurological Metabolic Disease and Geriatric Medicine at Second University of Naples in Naples, Italy.

Researchers worked with two volunteer groups to test statins’ effects on telomeres. One group was under statin therapy, while the second group did not use the drugs. The group using statins had higher telomerase activity in their white blood cells, which was associated with less shortening of the telomeres.

The researchers say higher telomerase activation prevents the excessive accumulation of short telomeres.

"The great thing about statins is that they reduce risks for cardiovascular disease significantly and are generally safe for most people. The bad thing is that statins do have side effects, like muscle injury," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. "But if it is confirmed that statins might actually slow aging itself—and not just the symptoms of aging—then statins are much more powerful drugs than we ever thought."