Statins — drugs intended for lowering cholesterol — have been in the news a lot over the past few years. Spending on the drugs increased from $8 billion in 2000 to $20 in 2005, and there have been a number of research papers during that time focused on the potential dangers of statin use in pregnancy, including questions about whether the drugs can cause birth defects.
Although not a full study report, a letter to Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine has been generating additional coverage of statins and pregnancy. In their letter, researchers from the University of Manchester note the role of cholesterol in normal fetal development and explain that their preliminary data suggest that water-soluble statins may affect placental development. They explain that this was previously suspected for fat-soluble statins, but that the water-soluble types may have the same detrimental effects.
Although the University of Manchester piece is not a full paper and so requires further detail and scrutiny to assess the authors’ findings, the topic in general is one that merits further attention. A news headline from earlier this year suggested that statins may reduce the chance of miscarriage in women with antiphospholipid syndrome, although the research was done only in mice. In those reports, statin use during pregnancy was described as something safe and normal, despite existing research to the contrary.
Meanwhile, the information from the FDA on these drugs generally indicates that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should not take the drugs. A larger debate is ongoing about whether statins effectively reduce the risk of heart disease (especially in women), the main reason people seek to lower cholesterol. Holy mixed messages, Batman.