This article has not necessarily been edited by Health24.
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Long-term use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may offer protection against the development of painful gallstones that require surgery, results of a large study hint.
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped, muscular sac attached to the undersurface of the right lobe of the liver, whose function in the body is to store and concentrate bile and aid in the digestive process.
Gallstones are formed by an excess of water, salt, cholesterol and other substances excreted from the liver and can cause painful blockages. It seems logical that since statins decrease the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, there would be diminished cholesterol levels in bile, thus preventing stone formation.
However, there are few data on this association in humans.To investigate, Dr. Christoph R. Meier from University Hospital Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues analyzed the records of 27,035 patients who had gallstone disease or had their gallbladder removed and 106,531 "controls" with healthy gallbladders. In the study population, 2396 patients and 8,868 controls were taking statins.
They found that current statin users had a 22 percent reduced likelihood of developing gallstones, whereas no such protection was evident for past users of statin drugs. The risk was reduced significantly only with long-term statin use.
For example, for a total of 5 to 19 current statin prescriptions (reflecting 1 to 1.5 years of treatment), the likelihood of gallstones was just 15 percent lower, while for 20 or more current prescriptions the likelihood of gallstones was 36 percent lower.The apparent protective effect of statins on gallstones did not differ for men and women, by age group, or by the individual statin used.
Statins were also protective in patients who were overweight and obese."Our findings," Meier's team maintains, "may be of clinical relevance given that gallstone disease represents a major burden for health care systems."