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Familiar drug niacin proves effective in clinical cholesterol tests

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

Patients taking statins to control high levels of bad cholesterol may benefit more from adding the familiar drug niacin to their regimen, rather than the newer Zetia, new research suggests.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Medical School randomly assigned 208 patients who were taking statins to control heart disease or high cholesterol into groups which were additionally told to take either Niaspan, which contains niacin, or Zetia, the New York Times reports.

After 14 months, cholesterol testing revealed that Zetia decreased the patients’ bad cholesterol by an average of 19.2 percent, but had no effect on the thickness of the arterial wall. Participants in the niacin group experienced an 18.4 percent increase in good cholesterol and a decreased carotid wall thickness.

Dr Roger Blumenthal, a member of the research team, told the news source that the study "strengthens the idea that after you give a statin, the weight of the evidence is that, as a second agent, you should give niacin."

However, Dr Peter Kim, the president of Merck Research Laboratories, which makes Zetia, claimed that a drug's ability to reduce artery-wall thickness has not been proven to reduce heart attacks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, statins are drugs which aim to reduce the thickening or arterial walls by inhibiting the production of the bad cholesterol LDL in the liver.

Cholesterol in teens could foster development of cancer

As the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease is growing among certain demographics, research has shown that the condition may pose an elevated risk of more than just heart attacks.

A study presented this month at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress suggested increases in the prevalence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity in teenagers, the Nursing Times reports.

When the study began in 2002, the researchers found that 17 percent of the teens had at least one cardiovascular risk factor – including 19 percent with high blood pressure, a total of 11 percent with obesity and 9 percent with high cholesterol.

Six years later, the number of teens with risk factors rose to 21 percent, with high cholesterol rising to 16 percent and obesity rising to 13 percent.

While Beth Abramson, a representative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, told the news provider many of these teens will experience an increased risk for developing premature heart disease and type 2 diabetes, concurrent studies suggest that high cholesterol levels are also linked to an elevated threat of developing some types of cancer.

Two studies published this week in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention revealed that that patients with low total cholesterol experience 60 percent less risk of developing the most aggressive form of prostate cancer, while elevated levels of the good cholesterol HDL may protect against lung and liver cancers, CNN reports.

According to National Cancer Institute, cholesterol tests for the average man show HDL levels between 40 and 50 mg/dL.

Cholesterol tests made easy

With research continuing to shape how doctors diagnose and treat high LDL cholesterol, testing methods are evolving as well.

Scientists at the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration Coordinating Center at the University of Cambridge have said that simplified cholesterol tests, which do not measure the blood fat called triglycerides, no longer require patients to fast, HealthDay News reports.

The study's lead researcher Dr John Danesh told the news source, "This finding suggests that current discussions about how to measure cholesterol levels in vascular risk assessment should hinge more on practical considerations like cost, availability and standardization of assays."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were about 6.5 million visits to doctors’ offices in 2004 that resulted in a cholesterol test being done or ordered.

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