A new-generation cholesterol drug called Vytorin is making headlines after a recent study showed it not only lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, but is successful in reducing overall heart attack risk.
However, a top cardiologist tells Newsmax Health that doctors and patients should not get carried away with the belief that the drug is a “miracle” treatment that can replace older statin drugs.
“Vytorin is being heralded today as an alternative for preventing heart attacks, but this is misleading,” says Chauncey Crandall, M.D., author of the #1 Amazon bestseller The Simple Heart Cure. “It’s easy to miss the fact that this is a combination drug that includes a statin.”
Vytorin is a combination of the new cholesterol-lowering medicine ezetimibe, which is sold as Zetia, and the statin drug simvastatin (Zocor). The study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, showed that the medication reduced the repeat incidence of heart attack and stroke by 6 percent.
The trial is the first to show that a different type of cholesterol-lowering drug can improve upon statins. Statins reduce the amount of cholesterol made in the liver. Zetia works in a different way, blocking absorption of cholesterol.
But Dr. Crandall cautions that because the research did not involve the use of Zetia alone, no firm conclusions can be drawn about its effectiveness.
“Zetia could never replace a statin. Vytorin contains Zetia, but only in combination with Zocor, a statin with a proven track record and antioxidant properties as well,” said Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
The study does prove the importance of lowering LDL-cholesterol when it comes to preventing heart attacks, he said. But Dr. Crandall currently puts cholesterol blockers such as Zetia and Vytorin no higher than third on the list of cholesterol-lowering therapies.
- Eating less meat. “The best way to lower cholesterol is to educate patients that they need to change their lifestyle by adopting a plant-based diet,” said Dr. Crandall. “The Mediterranean diet is a lifesaver for many people.”
- Statin drugs. “If an improved diet fails to lower LDL cholesterol, a statin drug should be used,” Dr. Crandall said.
- Cholesterol blocking drugs. “Vytorin should be used only if the other two steps don’t work,” Dr. Crandall said. “It should never be used as a first-line therapy.”
Although the Vytorin research has made a big splash in cardiology circles, Dr. Crandall cautions against drawing too many conclusions from a single study, noting that both Zetia and Vytorin have had a checkered research history. Trials in the past have found little or no benefit for either Zetia or Vytorin.
“Doctors should never use single studies to replace findings drawn from years of data or the experience that comes from treating thousands of patients,” Dr. Crandall added.
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