Just a couple of years ago, statin discoverer Akira Endo was tackling his elevated cholesterol by exercising more. But the Japanese scientist who won this year's prestigious Lasker Award has drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.
"Five years ago, my cholesterol levels were at 230-240 mg/dL. My doctor has been asking me to take a statin," Endo tells us in an e-mail. "Now, I am taking a statin drug twice or three times a week. It is very effective."
People with cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL are considered to be at low risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association; 200-to-239 mg/dL is considered borderline-to-high risk, and 240 or above is deemed high risk. Doctors recommend statins for people without known coronary disease whose LDL, or "bad" cholesterol is 190 mg/dL or higher, the heart association says. Those at higher risk can start the drugs even if their LDL levels are lower.
As we noted Saturday, Endo hit upon a fungus four decades ago that inhibited the production of reductase, an enzyme that helps synthesize heart-clogging cholesterol. Despite his groundbreaking discovery, which has been leveraged into a multi-billion-dollar industry, Endo, 74, was reluctant to take statin drugs himself; he told the Wall Street Journal in 2006 that he briefly took Mevacor, but eventually stopped and lowered his cholesterol by working out more.
Endo didn't say what changed his mind. But he tells us he's heartened that his science has made a real-world impact. Some 30 million people around the world take statins, according to the Lasker Foundation. He demurred on questions about their reported side effects — among them, muscle weakness, pain, fatigue and cognitive problems — or whether they confer longer or improved quality of life.
"Trying something good for society has been my dream since boyhood, which has been realized at last by discovering statins," he told us, "but my success as a scientist is far bigger than that I expected at the beginning of my work."
(Image by Heikenwaelder Hugo, www.heikenwaelder.at)