Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cholesterol gone haywire

New research provides the first explanation of an active rather than passive process that leads to heart valve degeneration. Heart valve disease is caused not by a ‘wear and tear' phenomenon, but by an inflammatory process likely triggered by high cholesterol that stimulates certain cells to reprogram into bone cells in the aortic valve and cartilage cells in the mitral valve, according to researcher Nalini Rajamannan, MD of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute of Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who examined diseased mitral and aortic valves removed during surgery for the study.

“Common wisdom in the medical community has always been that thickening of the mitral valves was part of the aging process as deposits of calcium, a mineral found in the blood, built up on the valves. Our findings open the door to the idea that medical therapies such as statins may be able to play a role in preventing or slowing the process and curtailing the need for surgery.”

In an earlier pioneering study, animals treated with statins had significantly less heart valve disease than the control animals that were not treated. The results from the animal studies and now with the human valves demonstrate that valvular heart disease has an active biology which can be treated with medications similar to that of coronary artery disease.

More incredible research. This actually is not new. An earlier study found that narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve is less than half as likely to worsen in patients taking statin drugs. Resaerchers concluded that "it is possible statins offer a triple benefit with regard to aortic stenosis by reducing cholesterol, inflammation and calcium deposition."

More on heart valve surgery, a procedure performed 100,000 times per year in the U.S.

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