Statins and the Spine
One medication may do double duty in relieving your herniated disc pain
A team led by Dr. Shu-Hua Yang, chief of the department of orthopaedics at the National Taiwan University, found that the anti-cholesterol drug lovastatin (Mevacor) may improve DDD surgical outcomes.
The research team conducted the small study with six people, aged 23 to 29, who required surgery for lumbar herniated discs. The researchers extracted cells from the damaged disc's inner, gel-like center (the nucleus pulposus). They cultivated the cells in a lab and added lovastatin.
The team determined how lovastatin's addition would affect two bone-forming proteins: collagen I and collagen II. The expectation was that lovastatin would promote collagen II production (which makes up moveable joints) and inhibit collagen I (which helps develop excess fibrous connective tissue).
Indeed, collagen II increased and collagen I decreased after 72 hours. The cells from the nucleus pulposus increased as well, and lovastatin caused no harm to the cells. Essentially, the results indicated that lovastatin's addition promoted the regeneration of nucleus pulposus tissue.
Such regeneration would be very helpful in the early stage of disc degeneration. Early tissue regeneration may possibly reverse the degenerative process and produce a healthy intervertebral disc, said Dr. Yang in an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons news release.
Age plays a part in the findings. In a related study, Dr. Yang and his colleagues found that the tissue of younger patients tends to foster regeneration better than their older counterparts.
DDD is often associated with aging. And it's true that many older people acquire DDD through normal wear and tear on the spine. As you age, the structure of your intervertebral discs change, and they can eventually wear down. It's a natural—albeit unfortunate—part of getting older.
But DDD is hardly exclusive to the older crowd. Those as young as 20 can develop DDD, and some even inherit a prematurely aging spine. Though further studies are needed to determine the potential of statins in repairing damaged discs, it is an exciting development for DDD sufferers—especially the youngest of the bunch.
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering this research. First, a bigger study is needed to yield more conclusive evidence (there were only six participants). Similarly, a more diverse sampling of age groups would also provide a better understanding of who would most benefit from the research. Finally, experimenting with other statins will reveal whether these findings apply to all anti-cholesterol drugs, or if they are unique to Mevacor.
- http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docid=624347. Accessed 24 February 2009.