Antioxidants and Statin Therapy Don’t Mix, Study Warns

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Antioxidants and Statin Therapy Don’t Mix, Study Warns

September 14, 2001 — Like a lot of things it seems these days, what we once thought was good for us may turn out to actually be harmful. In the case of antioxidants, substances that help to prevent the potentially damaging effect of oxygen on molecules in the body, many believe that taking supplements of these, such as vitamins E and C and beta carotene, will help to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. However, results from a recent study have led to warnings for people taking both antioxidant supplements and the drug simvastatin, a therapy for heart disease.

In the study, conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle, 153 patients with coronary artery disease were randomized to receive one of four possible study treatments: simvastatin plus niacin; antioxidants (vitamins E and C, beta carotene, and selenium), simvastatin plus niacin plus the antioxidants, or placebo. Results demonstrated that patients receiving simvastatin had significant reductions in their cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels – a positive finding. However, those receiving simvastatin plus niacin had greater increases in their HDL (“good”) cholesterol compared to those receiving simvastatin plus niacin and the antioxidants. The antioxidants appeared to “blunt” the positive effects of the statin therapy. In the other two treatment groups in which patients received either antioxidants only or placebo, neither improvements in HDL cholesterol nor declines in LDL cholesterol were observed.

These results raise questions about whether antioxidant supplements really offer any positive benefit in the prevention of heart disease. In addition, they will have important implications for the medical management of patients with heart disease. With millions of people take antioxidant supplements and the number of people being prescribed statins, such as simvastatin, on the rise, physicians and patients alike should be aware of the findings from this study. This also highlights the importance of patients telling their doctors about everything they’re taking for their health, including vitamin supplements and herbals, and physicians will need to be sure to ask for this information from all of their patients.

Cheung MC, Zhao X, Chait A, Albers JJ, Brown G. “Antioxidant Supplements Block the Response of HDL to Simvastatin-Niacin Therapy in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease and Low HDL.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2001; 21:1320.

Fogoros R (Dr. Rich). “Antioxidants: Bad for the heart?” August 20, 2001.

Wanjek C. “The Beating Goes On: Report Shows Antioxidants Interfere With an Effective Therapy for Heart Disease.” The Washington Post. August 14, 2001; HE01.


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