A similar study, being run by the University of Oxford, is exploring whether niacin has an effect on heart disease or stroke cases in a broader selection of cardiac disease patients. Its results are expected in 2013.
So far, then, only the statins have been shown to safely reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes in the average person with high cholesterol, and the reasons for their success are not fully understood. To Steven Nissen, who chairs the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, the recent disappointing results with other medicines means one thing: if researchers want to know whether a new drug reduces the number of heart attacks in a given population, they must design a study that measures the number of heart attacks in that population. “Changing a biochemical marker is not the same as improving the outcome for patients,” Nissen insists. As much as physicians and their patients might wish it otherwise, cardiovascular disease has complex causes, and changing one or two factors that contribute to it will not always be enough to guarantee good health. In the meantime, in addition to taking prescribed medicines, Baylor’s Ballantyne says, people at risk for heart disease and stroke would be wise to use all the weapons at their disposal—such as exercising, if their doctors approve of it—and watching what they eat.
This article was originally published with the title Cholesterol Conundrum.