Researchers have revealed that statins, one of the commonly prescribed drugs, reduce beneficial brown adipose tissue. But that is no reason to demonize these drugs, the scientists insist. The research findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism and are available to view online.
A certain proportion of the adults has not only white adipose (or fatty) tissue, but also the brown. When we put on weight the fat which we accumulate comprises a type of fat tissue called as white adipose tissue (WAT).
But another type of fat known as brown adipose tissue (BAT) is beneficial. This brown adipose tissue helps to convert sugar and fat into heat and so burn off energy. Though adults have very little BAT, those who do are better at regulating their body temperature in the winter. And are less likely to put on excess weight or develop diabetes.
A research team by scientists at the ETH Zurich in Switzerland has discovered that most commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs affect a biochemical pathway.
This may lead to reduced amounts of beneficial brown adipose tissues in adults. Statins are given as a way to reduce the heart attack risk since they decrease cholesterol levels in the blood. Hence, statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide.
Experimental investigation on mice and humans
Wolfrum and his team have been studying brown adipose tissue for many years. They investigated how “bad” white fat cells, that form the layer of fat under our skin, become “good” brown fat cells. Researchers conducted many cell culture experiments.
After experimentation, they discovered that the biochemical pathways which produce cholesterol play a vital role in this transformation. They also found out that the main molecule is the metabolite geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate. This molecule is involved in regulating the transformation.
Previous studies exhibited that the cholesterol biochemical pathway is also central to the working of statins. One of their impacts is to reduce the synthesis of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.
Therefore, the researchers wanted to see whether statins also influence the formation of brown adipose tissue. And indeed they do, as the researchers have now revealed in studies on mice and humans.
For this, the researchers studied positron emission tomography scans of 8,500 patients at the University Hospital Zurich. This enables them to demonstrate whether the individual had brown adipose tissue. It was also identified whether the patients were taking statins or not.
Assessing the scans displays that 6 percent of individuals not taking the medicine had brown adipose tissue. But this tissue type was present in only a tiny over 1 percent of those who were taking statins.
The researchers directed a separate clinical study of 16 persons at the University Hospitals of Basel and Zurich to determine that statins actually reduce the activity of brown adipose tissue.
“Extremely important medications”
Although the research verified that statins have a negative impact, Wolfrum warns against talking them down.
“We also have to deliberate that statins are extremely important to prevent cardiovascular disease. They save millions of lives, and they are prescribed for a very good reason,” he says.
Though, statins also have negative effects. As in high doses, they increase some people’s risk of developing diabetes to some extent– as has been observed in other studies.
“It is also possible that these two effects, the decrease in brown adipose tissue and the slightly increased diabetes risk, are linked,” Wolfrum says. He said this question requires more research.
But then Wolfrum stresses that even if such a relation were established, that would be no reason to demonize statins. Rather, it would become vital to conduct additional research into the mechanisms behind this and find out which patients are affected.
It might then be probable to take a personalized medication approach and continue to commend statins to most people while suggesting alternative treatments for a small group of patients.