Scientific conclusions have been mixed on the question of whether cholesterol-lowering statins can actually extend lives. But new research suggests a mechanism by which the widely prescribed drugs might extend lifespans.
According to a new study in the FASEB Journal
, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, statins may have a beneficial impact on telomeres — bits of DNA at the ends of chromosomes believed to be key factors in the natural aging process — by reducing the rate at which they shorten as we age.
Editor’s Note: How Long Should You Use Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs? Doctor Answers
Researchers said the finding opens the door for potentially using statins, or derivatives of statins, as an anti-aging therapy.
"By telomerase activation, statins may represent a new molecular switch able to slow down senescent cells in our tissues and be able to lead healthy lifespan extension," said Giuseppe Paolisso, M.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Internal Medicine, Surgical, Neurological Metabolic Disease and Geriatric Medicine at Second University of Naples in Naples, Italy.
To make this discovery, Paolisso and colleagues studied individuals taking statins and compared them to a similar group of people who were not on the drugs. When researchers measured telomerase activity in both groups, those undergoing statin treatment had higher telomerase activity in their white blood cells, which was associated with lower telomeres shortening along with aging as compared to the others.
"The great thing about statins is that they reduce risks for cardiovascular disease significantly and are generally safe for most people. The bad thing is that statins do have side effects, like muscle injury," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal. "But if it is confirmed that statins might actually slow aging itself — and not just the symptoms of aging — then statins are much more powerful drugs than we ever thought."
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