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Cholesterol lowering: Statins reduce brown adipose tissue
Taking cholesterol-lowering drugs can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, these drugs also increase the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes. And as researchers have now found, statins also reduce the brown adipose tissue that is beneficial to health.
Diet change and medication
Around one in three Germans have high cholesterol. An elevated cholesterol level can lead to diseases of the vessels, with possible consequences such as a heart attack or stroke. In order to lower cholesterol, a change in diet is usually recommended. Cholesterol-lowering drugs are also often used. However, specialists criticize the fact that such preparations are prescribed far too often and in many cases do more harm than good because they can cause muscle problems and increase the risk of diabetes. In addition, researchers have now found that cholesterol-lowering drugs also reduce brown adipose tissue, which is beneficial for health.
In addition to white, adults also have brown adipose tissue
According to experts, people have not only white, but also brown adipose tissue. The latter helps convert sugar and fat into heat.
Those who have brown adipose tissue can regulate their body heat better in winter and are less likely to suffer from obesity and diabetes.
An international team of researchers led by Christian Wolfrum, professor at the Laboratory for Translational Nutritional Biology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), has now found that the statins' drug class reduces the formation of brown adipose tissue.
Statins lower the cholesterol level in the blood and are prescribed, among other things, to reduce the risk of heart attack. According to a communication from ETH Zurich, these preparations are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide.
Statins reduce the activity of brown adipose tissue
Wolfrum and his colleagues have been researching brown adipose tissue for years. The scientists investigated how "good" brown fat cells develop from the "bad" white fat cells that form the well-known fat pad.
In cell culture experiments, they have now found that the metabolic pathway responsible for the production of cholesterol plays a central role in this transformation.
The researchers identified the metabolite geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate as the key molecule that regulates the conversion.
As known from previous studies, the cholesterol pathway is also central to the effects of statins. Among other things, statins lead to a reduced formation of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.
Therefore, the researchers wanted to know whether statins also influence the formation of brown adipose tissue. Indeed, they do, as the scientists have now been able to show in studies in mice and humans.
Among other things, the experts evaluated positron emission tomography images of around 8,500 patients at Zurich University Hospital. In these pictures, the scientists could see whether people have brown adipose tissue.
The patients also knew whether they had to take statins. The evaluation showed that among those who did not have to take such drugs, six percent had brown adipose tissue. Among the people taking statins, only a little over one percent had such tissue.
In an independent clinical study with 16 people at the university hospitals in Basel and Zurich, the researchers were also able to show that statins reduce the activity of brown adipose tissue.
Their results were published in the "Cell Metabolism" magazine.
Cholesterol lowerers save millions of lives
Although the study shows a negative effect of statins, the ETH professor warns against badly talking about these drugs.
“You also have to throw in the balance that statins are extremely important for the prophylaxis of cardiovascular diseases. These drugs save the lives of millions of people worldwide and are prescribed for good reasons, ”said Wolfrum.
However, there is another negative effect of statins: when taken in high doses, they increase the risk of developing diabetes in certain people, as is known from other studies.
"These two effects - the reduction in brown adipose tissue and the slightly increased risk of diabetes - may be related," says Wolfrum. However, this must first be examined in more detail.
But even if such a connection should prove to be true, it would not be a matter of demonizing statins, emphasizes the ETH professor.
Rather, further research would have to investigate the mechanisms of action and find out which patients are affected by the negative effects.
Personalized medicine approaches might then still recommend statins to the majority of patients, but would have to suggest alternative therapies to a small group of patients. (ad)