A network meta-analysis of 42 clinical trials concludes that rosuvastatin, simvastatin, and atorvastatin are the statins most effective at lowering non-high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C) in people with diabetes and at risk for cardiovascular disease.
The analysis focused on the efficacy of statin treatment on reducing non-HDL-C, as opposed to reducing low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), which has traditionally been used as a surrogate to determine cardiovascular disease risk from hypercholesterolemia.
“The National Cholesterol Education Program in the US recommends that LDL-C values should be used to estimate the risk of cardiovascular disease related to lipoproteins,” lead author Alexander Hodkinson, MD, Senior National Institute of Health Research Fellow, University of Manchester, United Kingdom, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.
“But we believe that non-high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol is more strongly associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease, because non-HDL-C combines all the bad types of cholesterol, which LDL-C misses, so it could be a better tool than LDL-C for assessing CVD risk and effects of treatment. We already knew which of the statins reduce LDL-C, but we wanted to know which ones reduced non-HDL-C; hence the reason for our study,” Hodkinson said.
The findings were published online March 24 in BMJ.
In April 2021, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom updated guidelines for adults with diabetes to recommend that non-HDL-C should replace LDL-C as the primary target for reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease with lipid-lowering treatment.
Currently, NICE is alone in its recommendation. Other international guidelines do not have a non-HDL-C target and use LDL-C reduction instead. These include guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the National Lipid Association.
Non-HDL-C is simple to calculate and can easily be done by clinicians by subtracting HDL-C from the total cholesterol level, he added.
This analysis compared the effectiveness of different statins at different intensities in reducing levels of non-HDL-C in 42 randomized controlled trials that included 20,193 adults with diabetes.
Compared with placebo, rosuvastatin, given at moderate- and high-intensity doses, and simvastatin and atorvastatin at high-intensity doses, were the best at lowering levels of non-HDL-C over an average treatment period of 12 weeks.
High-intensity rosuvastatin led to a 2.31 mmol/L reduction in non-HDL-C (95% credible interval, –3.39 to –1.21). Moderate-intensity rosuvastatin led to a 2.27 mmol/L reduction in non-HDL-C (95% credible interval, –3.00 to –1.49).
High-intensity simvastatin led to a 2.26 mmol/L reduction in non-HDL-C (95% credible interval, –2.99 to –1.51).
High-intensity atorvastatin led to a 2.20 mmol/L reduction in non-HDL-C (95% credible interval, –2.69 to –1.70).
Atorvastatin and simvastatin at any intensity and pravastatin at low intensity were also effective in reducing levels of non-HDL-C, they note.
In 4670 patients who were at great risk for a major cardiovascular event, atorvastatin at high intensity showed the largest reduction in levels of non-HDL-C (1.98 mmol/L; 95% credible interval, –4.16 to 0.26).
Additionally, high-intensity simvastatin and rosuvastatin were the most effective in reducing LDL-C.
High-intensity simvastatin led to a 1.93 mmol/L reduction in LDL-C (95% credible interval, –2.63 to –1.21), and high-intensity rosuvastatin led to a 1.76 mmol/L reduction in LDL-C (95% credible interval, –2.37 to –1.15).
In four studies, significant reductions in nonfatal myocardial infarction were shown for atorvastatin at moderate intensity, compared with placebo (relative risk, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.43 – 0.76). No significant differences were seen for discontinuations, nonfatal stroke, or cardiovascular death.
“We hope our findings will help guide clinicians on statin selection itself, and what types of doses they should be giving patients. These results support using NICE’s new policy guidelines on cholesterol monitoring, using this non-HDL-C measure, which contains all the bad types of cholesterol for patients with diabetes,” Hodkinson said.
“This study further emphasizes what we have known about the benefit of statin therapy in patients with type 2 diabetes,” Prakash Deedwania, MD, professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.
Deedwania and others have published data on patients with diabetes that showed that treatment with high-intensity atorvastatin was associated with significant reductions in major adverse cardiovascular events.
“Here they use non-HDL cholesterol as a target. The NICE guidelines are the only guidelines looking at non-HDL cholesterol; however, all guidelines suggest an LDL to be less than 70 in all people with diabetes, and for those with recent acute coronary syndromes, the latest evidence suggests the LDL should actually be less than 50,” Deedwania, spokesperson for the AHA and ACC, said.
As far as which measure to use, he believes both are useful. “It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, in my opinion. The societies have not recommended non-HDL cholesterol and it’s easier to stay with what is readily available for clinicians, and using LDL cholesterol is still okay. The results of this analysis are confirmatory, in that looking at non-HDL cholesterol gives results very similar to what these statins have shown for their effect on LDL cholesterol,” he said.
Non-HDL Cholesterol a Better Marker?
For Robert Rosenson, MD, director of metabolism and lipids at Mount Sinai Health System and professor of medicine and cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, non-HDL cholesterol is becoming an important marker of risk for several reasons.
“The focus on LDL cholesterol has been due to the causal relationship of LDL with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, but in the last few decades, non-HDL has emerged because more people are overweight, have insulin resistance, and have diabetes,” Rosenson told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology. “In those situations, the LDL cholesterol under-represents the risk of the LDL particles. With insulin resistance, the particles become more triglycerides and less cholesterol, so on a per particle basis, you need to get more LDL particles to get to a certain LDL cholesterol concentration.”
Non-HDL cholesterol testing does not require fasting, another advantage of using it to monitor cholesterol, he added.
What is often forgotten is that moderate- to high-intensity statins have very good triglyceride-lowering effects, Rosenson said.
“This article highlights that, by using higher doses, you get more triglyceride-lowering. Hopefully, this will get practitioners to recognize that non-HDL cholesterol is a better predictor of risk in people with diabetes,” he said.
The study was funded by the UK National Institute of Health Research. Hodkinson, Rosenson, and Deedwania report no relevant financial relationships.
BMJ. 2022;376:e067731. Full text
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