The wonder drug of the 20th century that’s poised to be the thalidomide of the 21st is statin cholesterol-lowering drugs. A study reported July 29, 2015, by the American Journal of Physiology—Cell Physiology shows why statin drugs are bad news for stem cells.

Statin drugs to lower cholesterol are used worldwide and earn about $20 billion annually for pharmaceutical companies. The data on whether statin drugs have a clinically meaningful impact on reducing heart attacks is weak, relying on marketing metrics to convince doctors that a percentage of reduction in cardiac events is important. Despite the statistical slight of hand that helps promote the drugs, many doctors believe that it’s their ethical duty to assure that most middle-aged patients in their practice take these drugs.

In 2007, Regenexx doctors began to notice that orthopedic patients undergoing cultured mesenchymal stem-cell therapy who were on a statin drug were experiencing culture failures. This meant that while the stem cells of most patients would easily grow in culture to increase more stem cells, the stem cells of patients on statin drugs would die before they could propagate.

The recent study may explain why. Researchers at Tulane University in Louisiana were interested in the fact that macrophages, which are responsible for the artery-plaque rupture that leads to heart attacks, were less likely to be created by mesenchymal stem cells in the presence of statins. Since fewer macrophages could mean fewer plaque ruptures, this could be a potentially good thing to prevent heart disease. Regrettably, the researchers also found that statin drugs hurt the mesenchymal stem cells so that they could no longer differentiate into bone and cartilage cells. Statin drugs also increased the aging and death rate of the mesenchymal stem cells and reduced the abilities of the stem cells to repair DNA. Basically, statin drugs were stem-cell poison.

This latest study vindicates Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Stephanie Senef, who for years has warned that statins pose the next public-health disaster. Don’t get fooled into taking these drugs. Statins hurt stem cells. Considerable recent research suggests that patients can better reduce their risk of heart attack by eating blueberries.

“Statins Hurt Stem Cells” first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.

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