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Cholesterol-reducing drugs are medicines that lower the amount of cholesterol (a fat-like substance) in the blood.
Cholesterol is a chemical that can both benefit and harm the body. On the good side, cholesterol plays important roles in the structure of cells and in the production of hormones. But too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to heart and blood vessel disease. To complicate matters, not all cholesterol contributes to heart and blood vessel problems. One type, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or "good cholesterol," actually lowers the risk of these problems. The other type, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or "bad cholesterol," is the type that threatens people's health. The names reflect the way cholesterol moves through the body. To travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol must attach itself to a protein. The combination of a protein and a fatty substance like cholesterol is called a lipoprotein.
Many factors may contribute to the fact that some people have higher cholesterol levels than others. A diet high in certain types of fats is one factor. Medical problems such as poorly controlled diabetes, an under active thyroid gland, an overactive pituitary gland, liver disease or kidney failure also may cause high cholesterol levels. And some people have inherited disorders that prevent their bodies from properly using and eliminating fats. This allows cholesterol to build up in the blood.
Treatment for high cholesterol levels usually begins with changes in daily habits. By losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising more and reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol in the diet, many people can bring their cholesterol levels down to acceptable levels. However, some may need to use cholesterol-reducing drugs to reduce their risk of health problems.
There are four different classes of cholesterol lowering drugs:
Bile acid sequesterants are drugs that act by binding with the bile produced by the liver. Bile helps the digestion and absorption of fats in the intestine. By blocking the digestion of fats, bile acid sequesterants prevent the formation of cholesterol. Drugs in this class include: cholestyramine (Questran); colestipol (Colestid); and colesevalam (Welchol).
HMG-CoA inhibitors, often called "statins," are drugs that block an enzyme called "3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase." This blocks one of the steps in converting fat to cholesterol. These are the most effective cholesterol lowering agents available. Drugs in this group include: atorvastatin (Lipitor); cerivastatin (Baycol); fluvastatin (Lescol); lovastatin (Mevacor); pravastatin (Pravachol); and simvastatin (Zocor).
Fibric acid derivatives include clofibrate (Atromid-S); gemfibrozil (Lopid); and fenofibrate (Tricor). Although these drugs are less effective than the statins at lowering total cholesterol, they may be able to lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while raising the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Their exact mechanism of action is believed to be associated with inhibition of lipoprotein lipase activity.
Niacin, vitamin B-3, is also effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Although the normal vitamin dose of niacin is only 20 mg, the dose required to reduce cholesterol levels is at least 500 mg each day. The mechanism of action of niacin in cholesterol reduction is associated with the inhibition of VLDL secretion in the blood-stream.
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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