Statins don’t just lower cholesterol! Study finds cheap pills may also help treat ulcerative colitis
- Stanford University researchers said a simple statin could reduce symptoms
- Data showed it left ulcerative colitis patients half as likely to need surgery
- It occurs when the colon and rectum become inflamed and have ulcers
Cheap statins may treat a debilitating intestinal problem that can leave patients regularly needing to use the toilet, a study suggests.
Stanford University researchers have found that atrorvastatin — sold under the name Lipitor for just 54p a pill — can help ease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
Their data showed those given the drug, normally used to lower cholesterol, were half as likely to need surgery or be hospitalised as patients receiving normal care.
It’s unclear exactly why statins improved their condition, but the pills are believed to have some anti-inflammatory benefits.
Ulcerative colitis occurs when the colon and rectum become inflamed and ulcerated. It is the most common type of bowel disease.
It may lead to symptoms including diarrhoea, stomach pain and regularly needing to use the toilet, and is currently only treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
One in 400 people in the UK have the condition, which is about the same rate as in the US. About a third of patients end up needing surgery.
Stanford University researchers have found that Atrorvastatin — sold under the name Lipitor for just 54p a pill — can help ease the symptoms of ulcerative colitis patients.
In the study, the researchers combed through databases containing hundreds of patients who had received a colon biopsy.
They looked for drugs that patients had received which reduced the severity of their symptoms.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a medical term that describes a group of conditions in which the intestines become inflamed (red and swollen).
Two major types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine (colon) whereas Crohn’s disease can occur in any part of the intestines.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps and pain frequent
- Watery diarrhoea (may be bloody)
- Severe urgency to have a bowel movement
- Fever during active stages of disease
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue anaemia (due to blood loss)
People of any age can get IBD, but it’s usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40.
The conditions are chronic and cannot be cured so treatment usually relies on medication and lifestyle changes to manage the symptoms, but may include surgery.
IBD is thought to affect some three million people in the US, over 300,000 Britons, and 85,000 Australians.
Source: Crohn’s & Colitis Australia
They identified three drugs that could help patients — a statin and two drugs used in chemotherapy.
Results showed ulcerative colitis patients who were taking statins were 50 per cent less likely to need surgery and were less likely to be hospitalised than those on normal treatment, which includes anti-inflammatories.
Dr Purvesh Khatri, a biomedical expert at Stanford who ran the study, said: ‘The first two were chemotherapy drugs, which of course you would not prescribe to someone due to serious side effects, buit the third was a statin.
‘Statins are generally safe enough that some doctors joke they should be put in the water.’
Ulcerative colitis patients who were taking statins were also prescribed other anti-inflammatory medications at a lower rate.
While it’s not entirely known how statins reduce symptoms of the disease, Dr Khatri said they are known to have some sort of general anti-inflammatory abilities.
He added: ‘At this point, one could argue that this data shows a strong enough connection to start prescribing statins for ulcerative colitis.
‘I think we’re almost there. We need to validate the effects a bit more stringently before moving it into the clinic.’
The research team looked only at drugs that had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US so that, if they found a drug that worked, it could be rolled out to patients sooner.
It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
It comes after the Mail on Sunday reported thousands of bowel disease patients could be spared regular hospital visits and long waits for treatment with a simple test.
Currently, sufferers of ulcerative colitis, an incurable inflammatory condition that affects the colon, must visit an outpatient clinic for two days every few months for check-up. This involves a sigmoidoscopy, during which a camera on a thin tube is inserted into the back passage.
Sigmoidoscopies can be done only in a hospital and three members of staff are needed to operate the equipment. Patients then have to return a week later to speak to their doctor about their results.
Now, thanks to a new portable device called the LumenEye, sigmoidoscopies could be a thing of the past for colitis patients.