January 18, 2006

Statins may slightly raise aging eye disease risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Contrary to the expectations of
some scientists, cholesterol-lowering 'statin' drugs (such as
Lipitor or Zocor) do not appear to stave off age-related
macular degeneration (AMD) in the eye.

In fact, a review of data from the Cardiovascular Health
Study suggests that taking a statin may slightly increase the
risk of AMD, investigators at the University of Alabama at
Birmingham report.

Macular degeneration is a condition in which there is
progressive deterioration of the central area of the retina,
resulting in gradual sight loss in the center of the field of

Although several studies have examined the link between
statins and AMD, the results have been mixed -- with some
showing a benefit while others demonstrate no association or
increased risk, Dr. Gerald McGwin, Jr. and his associates note
in the Archives of Ophthalmology for January.

As the researchers explain, some have theorized that AMD
results from hardening of the arteries, in which case statin
drugs should be protective. However, McGwin's group has
previously found that cholesterol levels were actually lower in
patients with AMD than in those without, and other groups have
suggested that high cholesterol may paradoxically lower the
risk of AMD.

To further explore this issue, McGwin and colleagues
analyzed data from 2755 subjects age 65 and older who
participated in the Cardiovascular Health Study. They all had
eye exams, which uncovered AMD in 390 subjects.

The raw figures indicated that statin use had no effect on
the prevalence of AMD. However, after accounting for multiple
demographic, behavioral and medical factors, the researchers
found that statins increased the likelihood of AMD by 13
percent. Further adjustment for age, gender and race led to "a
modest trend" of increased risk, of 40 percent.

Summing up, the investigators say that whether statins
encourage or hinder AMD "is still an issue of current debate,"
which can only be decided by large observational studies.

SOURCE: Archives of Ophthalmology, January 2006.