Statin Use: Protecting More Than Just Your Heart?
Alicia Armeli

Between 2011–2012, more than one in four adults (27.9%) 40 years of age and older reported using cholesterol-lowering medications like statins within the last 30 days—a number that increased from one in five adults (19.9%) almost a decade earlier.1 Statins are primarily used to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but a recent study showed that it might protect more than just your heart.

Researchers at the University of Texas found that taking statins is linked to a lower risk of uterine fibroids and fibroid-related symptoms.2

“Recently, [statins] have been shown to inhibit proliferation of uterine fibroid cells and inhibit tumor growth in fibroid animal models,” Mostafa A. Borahay, MD, PhD, and his team write. “We sought to examine the association between statin use and the risk of uterine fibroids and fibroid-related symptoms in a nationally representative sample of commercially insured women diagnosed with hyperlipidemia.”2

The study sample involved more than 190,000 women enrolled in one of the nation’s largest health insurance programs.2 Of these women, those aged 18-65 years diagnosed during the study with hyperlipidemia—a condition that involves high levels of fats like cholesterol in the blood—were investigated. Out of the women with hyperlipidemia, the researchers found 47,713 who had been diagnosed with uterine fibroids and 142,139 women without fibroids—an approximate 1 to 3 ratio. The researchers analyzed these numbers to see if there was any connection between the risk of fibroids, fibroid-related symptoms, and prior statin use.

The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and showed that taking statins within 2 years before fibroid diagnosis was associated with a decreased risk of developing the disease.2 In a separate analysis of the data, the researchers found that women taking statins also had a lower likelihood of fibroid-related symptoms, like heavy prolonged periods, anemia, and pelvic pain. In comparison to women who didn’t take statins, women who did were also less likely to undergo myomectomy—a type of surgery that removes fibroids.

Why statins have this effect on fibroids and fibroid symptoms isn’t entirely understood. Some laboratory studies show that statin use slows fibroid cell replication and tumor growth and encourages fibroid cell death.2 Whether this is how statins work against fibroids in humans is still unknown.

An exceedingly common condition, uterine fibroids are a type of noncancerous tumor that grows in the wall of the uterus. Some reports show that 70% of white women and 80%-90% of black women will develop fibroids by the time they reach 50.3

Fibroids may be common, but not every woman with fibroids experiences bothersome symptoms. Approximately 30%-50% of women with fibroids will seek treatment—with more than 200,000 women undergoing hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) for fibroid relief each year.3,4

Despite its frequency, hysterectomy for noncancerous conditions has been linked to complications like infection and bladder injury.5 Even when the ovaries are spared, hysterectomy is still associated with early onset of menopause.6 Given these realities, finding a preventative pharmaceutical treatment for fibroids is essential.

Borahay and his team are optimistic. “The finding that statin use was associated with fewer symptoms in cases, such as [heavy prolonged periods], anemia, and pelvic pain, is clinically significant,” they note. “Uterine fibroids are very common…Therefore, this beneficial association of statins on fibroid-related symptoms is promising.”2 Although these results show potential in the field of fibroid treatment, the researchers conclude that future more rigorous studies should be conducted to understand this relationship.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer and Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach, and a paid consultant of Merit Medical. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community.

REFERENCES

  1. Gu, Q., Paulose-Ram, R., Burt. V. L., et al. (2014). Prescription cholesterol-lowering medication use in adults aged 40 and over: United States, 2003–2012. NCHS data brief, no 177. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
  2. Borahay, M. A., Fang, X., Baillargeon, J. G., et al. (2016). Statin use and uterine fibroid risk in hyperlipidemia patients: a nested case-control study. Am J Obstet Gynecol, Dec; 215(6): 750.e1-750.e8.
  3. How many people are affected by or at risk of uterine fibroids? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/uterine/conditioninfo/Pages/people-affected.aspx
  4. Soliman, A. M., Yang, H., Du, E. X., et al. (2015). The direct and indirect costs of uterine fibroid tumors: a systematic review of the literature between 2000 and 2013. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 213(2): 141-160.
  5. Clarke-Pearson, D. L., Geller, E. J. (2013). Complications of hysterectomy. Obstet Gynecol, Mar; 121(3): 654-673.
  6. Trabuco, E., Moorman, P., Algeciras-Schimnich, A., et al. (2016). Association of ovary-sparing hysterectomy with ovarian reserve. Obstet Gynecol, May; 127(5): 819-827.