I missed this landmark paper last year, full text here. Possibly because, as it continues the demolition of the cholesterol hypothesis, it received absolutely zero publicity. I posted about the J-Litt study here, but this one is even better.
The paper is from the Essen group (in Germany) and describes their study comparing normal dose atrovastatin (10mg/d) with high dose atrovastatin (80mg/d).
Same drug, different dose rates, different cholesterol levels. Follow your patients for a year and have the coronary artery calcification progress tracked by electron-beam computed tomography. This is a reasonably well designed study, except see the "phew" comment below.
How much difference does it make if you drop your LDL-cholesterol to 87mg/dl as compared to 109mg/dl?
I think the answer is technically known as "diddly squat". Or zero, zilch, nuthin, nowt.
The answer as to why is pretty clear from table 3 shown here.
Look at the falls in hsCRP and fibrinogen on low vs high dose atrovastatin. They're the same between groups. Ie the anti inflammatory effect and anti thrombotic effects are maxed out at 10mg, so no further benefit is seen at 80mg. From my point of view this is fortunate. Had these pleiotropic effects not maxed out the study might have suggested lowering cholesterol was beneficial. But 80mg of atrovastatin is no better an anti inflammatory agent than 10mg is. Phew.
The paper discussion is an amusing catalogue of excuses and references to studies "better" designed to show the benefits of aggressive statin use. The trick is to use different drugs and give the best anti inflammatory statin at the highest dose rate. Then the lowest cholesterol correlates with, but is not responsible for, the least CV problems. It is also sensible NOT to measure CRP or fibrinogen, otherwise you end up with a study like this one, where people can see what's going on.
This group strike me as genuine medics who believe in the lipid hypothesis and are genuinely surprised that they have trashed the cholesterol hypothesis by accident. Still, I'll leave them with the best line from their conclusions, ignoring the squirming in the discussion and the plea for more time to get an effect. Here it is:
"we did not observe a relationship between on-treatment LDL cholesterol levels and the progression of calcified coronary atherosclerosis"
Thank you to Dr Davis of Track Your Plaque for citing this unheard of paper
Drs Axel Schmermund, MD; Stephan Achenbach, MD; Thomas Budde, MD; Yuri Buziashvili, MD; Andreas Förster, MD; Guy Friedrich, MD; Michael Henein, MD; Gert Kerkhoff, MD; Friedrich Knollmann, MD; Valery Kukharchuk, MD; Avijit Lahiri, MD; Roman Leischik, MD; Werner Moshage, MD; Michael Schartl, MD; Winfried Siffert, MD; Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, MD; Valentin Sinitsyn, MD; Anja Vogt, MD; Burkhard Wiedeking, MD; Raimund Erbel, MD
for this excellent study, published in a full-text-for-free journal.