The UK spends more than £500 million a year on statins, the NHS wonder drug for lowering cholesterol. Could a new food based pill, also known as the tomato pill, do a better job – without side-effects and at far less cost?
Statins are the biggest single item on the NHS drugs bill costing around £500m a year. If proposed heart disease screening for everyone aged 40-74 in England goes ahead even more people than the current 3 million could be taking statins – and costs could soar to billions.
The suggestion that doubling the number of people taking cholesterol-lowering statins could make a major health impact and lower the current total of 227,000 heart attacks in the UK each year and more than 87,000 first strokes and 53,000 second strokes, is medically controversial.
NHS Choices Medical Knowledge Service www.nhs.uk/news/2009/02February/Pages/WideStatinUse.aspx concludes: “Statins can have adverse effects and are not needed by everyone. Each person who is being considered for a statin medication should continue to have their individual coronary risk assessed according to their blood cholesterol level, age, sex and presence of other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking.”
Although statins are estimated to reduce heart disease incidence by around a third not all heart attacks are in patients with raised cholesterol levels. Yet regardless of cholesterol level/status heart attack victims have one other preventable risk factor in common – atherosclerosis.
Aterosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries caused by plaque, a deposit of fatty substances that furs up the inside of the arteries, is a shared symptom of heart attacks, stroke and other common and costly vascular diseases such as circulatory dementia, intermittent claudication and AMD (age related macular degeneration, the commonest cause of sight loss in the UK).
Preventing atherosclerosis could be even more valuable in reducing heart disease and stroke than lowering cholesterol. Until now there has not been a simple and effective way to tackle the problem. However, a team of scientists at Cambridge Theranostics (CTL) which focuses on natural products to improve heart health, have developed Ateronon, a one-a-day supplement containing 7mg patented bioavailable lycopene.
The unique combination of lycopene, whey protein and soy in Ateronon acts as a potent antioxidant to prevent oxidisation of bad cholesterol. In clinical studies Ateronon has reduced oxidisation of LDL cholesterol, a key process in the development of atherosclerosis, by more than 90 per cent within two months. It is the only clinically proven product to reduce the oxidation of LDL.
Ateronon® capsules given daily to older CHD patients (mean age 61, range 40-70) doubled plasma lycopene levels in two weeks from 0.26 to 0.52µmol/L. To reduce the risk of atherosclerosis plasma concentrations of the antioxidant lycopene need to be at least 0.2µmol/L, with an increasing trend in improvement from 0.2 to 0.6µmol/L. Unlike statins, no side effects have been reported by either coronary heart disease patients, or healthy individuals, taking Ateronon®. The capsules can also be safely taken in conjunction with lipid-lowering medication such as statins, and other drugs or treatments, say CTL.
Current clinical trials using Ateronon® at Harvard Medical School, Boston, are determining the rate of reduction of atherosclerotic plaque, and reduction of hypertension (high blood pressure). They are due to end 2011.
A trial of Ateronon® among haemorrhagic stroke patients is underway at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge and will also report in 2010.