Taking statins for high cholesterol appears to significantly delay the development of an enlarged prostate, a common condition in older men that can lead to incontinence and other distressing symptoms, researchers at the Mayo Clinic report.
An estimated 40 percent of older men develop prostate enlargement and trouble urinating at some point.
Cholesterol levels and inflammation are believed to play roles in the development of an enlarged prostate. Anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDS were shown to lower the risk of an enlarged prostate in a previous study.
Jennifer L. St Sauver and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic wanted to know if statins, which are taken by many older men to help control cholesterol and prevent heart disease, had any effect on the development of an enlarged prostate.
They looked at data from a study that followed a group of 2,447 Minnesota men aged 40 to 79 for an average of 14 years. Every two years, one group was given physical exams and another group answered questions about their medications and behaviors.
Nearly 30 percent of the men reported statin use at some point during the study.
After accounting for diabetes—a condition linked to urinary problems – other medical conditions, medications, exercise and other factors, statin use was linked to a delay of 6.5 to 7 years in the development of an enlarged prostate and a 2-year delay in onset of “reduced urinary flow rate.” In addition, “longer use of statins was associated with greater risk reductions,” the researchers report in the British Journal of Urology International.
“It was a pretty substantial drop,” St Sauver, the lead author, told Reuters Heath.
Over the entire study period, about 20 percent fewer men taking statins developed an enlarged prostate or moderate to severe lower urinary tract symptoms, and 10 percent fewer had decreased “urinary flow rate.”
“Men who used both medications (statins and NSAIDS) had the lowest risk,” the authors noted.
Despite the results, St Sauver does not recommend men start taking either drug.
“Even though I’m very excited about the study, it’s not the final word on this and I wouldn’t be comfortable advising people to start taking them just to prevent urologic problems,” she said. But “if a physician recommends them for coronary health, then you might also see benefits in urologic health as an extra benefit,” she said.
Even though the population in this study was white, St. Sauver added, “if statins are really the agent responsible for this drop in risk, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t operate the same way across racial populations.” A large study of African American men is currently underway to address that question.
Currently, medications to control urinary tract symptoms (alpha blockers) and slow prostate growth (finasteride) are prescribed but they must be taken for the rest of the man’s life. Surgery to remove the prostate may also be recommended. These therapies have risks and can be expensive, St Sauver said.