High Doses of Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs (Statins) Can Cause Kidney Damage

Taking high doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may cause damage to the kidney, a new study finds.

In the study, researchers from University of British Columbia and the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal studied more than two million statin users who aged 40 years or older with or without kidney disease. High dose statins included rosuvastatin (Crestor) at doses of 10 mg or higher, atorvastatin (Lipitor) at doses over 20 mg, and simvastatin (Zocor) at doses of 40 mg. All other statin doses were considered low dose.

They found that patients taking high-potency statins were more at risk of suffering acute kidney injury.

Specifically, those participants who took higher doses of statins had a 34 percent higher risk of being hospitalised for acute kidney injury during the first 120 days of treatment, compared with those taking low doses. This risk remained elevated two years after starting treatment.

Statins are widely prescribed to lower blood cholesterol levels and have been proven to be very effective. However, they’re also known to pose some side effects like liver damage and muscle pain.

“The elevated risk in patients using high-potency statins could be associated with an increased risk of muscle damage. In addition, statins have been shown to block the production of coenzyme Q10, a substance in the body that helps break down foods, which could lead to kidney injury,” said lead author Professor Colin Dormuth, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

Kidney injury is a severe inflammation and damage of the kidney, which can sometimes result in chronic kidney disease.

“In some cases, patients may be exposed to unnecessary risk of kidney damage for small gains in cardiovascular health. Although the absolute risk of kidney damage with these drugs is low, our findings put into question the common approach of using higher doses to push cholesterol levels lower and lower,” Dormuth said.

The study was not designed to investigate the long-term effects of these drugs on the kidneys. But Dormuth said that patients with acute kidney injury may require dialysis, a blood cleansing treatment. “Unfortunately, in some cases, there could be a permanent need for dialysis”, he added.