Cholesterol Breakthrough: How Low Can You Go?

About one in four adults aged 40 and older takes a cholesterol-lowering statin. These meds have been game changers for people with high cholesterol.

Research has shown statins can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in high-risk patients. But adding another drug to the mix might offer even bigger benefits. 

Carol Hrvatin, 61, has been battling high cholesterol for years.

“Probably in my 40’s, I started noticing I had some high cholesterol,” Hrvatin said.

It caught up with her. The retired schoolteacher had a heart attack six years ago.

Hrvatin now takes Repatha, an injectable medicine, to lower her cholesterol.

A new study found using this drug along with a statin can significantly lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels.

“To a level that has not really been achieved in any substantial clinical trial,” detailed Steve Nissen, M.D., the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Researchers studied 968 patients. Some took a statin and some a statin plus Repatha. After 18 months, the statin-only group had an average LDL of 93. Those who took both medicines: 36.6 -- the lowest level ever observed in a clinical study. The statin patients had no change in the amount of plaque in their coronary arteries, but 64 percent of patients who took both drugs had less plaque. Those with the lowest LDL levels had the most significant improvement.

“You know we used to say 'you can’t be too rich or too thin.' We now say, 'you can’t be too rich, too thin, or have too low of a cholesterol level,'” said Nissen.

This study could lead to new guidelines pushing lower cholesterol levels.

Hrvatin’s LDL levels went from 137 before Repatha to 65 after and it could also do the same for millions.

Right now, even the strictest guidelines suggest LDL levels should be 70 or less, but Nissen said this study could lead to much lower recommendations.

The researchers say there were no safety issues associated with the extremely low cholesterol levels they observed in the study. Repatha is typically injected once or twice a month. 

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