A new review suggests that statins — used primarily to manage cholesterol — may be effective in treating liver inflammation and chronic liver disease.
Statins are often prescribed to people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The review, a look at more than 50 previous studies, suggests that statin use may also reduce inflammatory molecules associated with chronic liver disease, leading to improved outcomes in these patients.
The review, “Rationale for the use of statins in liver disease,” was announced in a recent press release and is published in the “American Journal of Physiology—Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.”
The incidence of chronic liver disease and its associated complications is increasing worldwide, but few effective medications are available for patients. While liver transplantation remains a curative option for some with end-stage liver disease, the availability of donor livers is too limited to meet demand. Other treatment options are urgently needed, according to the authors.
In addition to its cholesterol-lowering effect, statins appear to function through other mechanisms to decrease inflammation, fibrosis (scarring of the liver), blood vessel abnormalities, thrombosis, and coagulation, potentially leading to improved outcomes in chronic liver disease patients.
Indeed, statin use has been associated with improvements in fatty liver, the slower spread of hepatitis C virus (HCV), lesser portal hypertension (high blood pressure due to obstruction by the liver), a reduction in liver tumor cells, and a reduced risk of liver cancer.
Statins also seem to exert an anti-inflammatory effect in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis by acting on multiple signaling pathways. But genetics and the type of statin used may influence outcomes. While NASH patients treated with Lipitor (atorvastatin) improved, those receiving Zocor (simvastatin) saw no change in their disease.
While statins may show promise in treating advanced liver disease, there are concerns regarding its safety. Statins are known to have potential hepatotoxic risks, which have limited their use in treating chronic liver disease in the past.
The researchers, however, suggest that “statins are cost-effective, generally well-tolerated by patients and the benefits of statin treatment in most patients outweighs their potential hepatotoxic risk” for those with advanced liver disease.