Study Links Certain Painkillers to High Cholesterol Levels

A new study published last month in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy sheds new light on why the class of painkillers known as COX-2 inhibitors may lead to an increased incidence of heart attacks. Researchers at Winthrop-University Hospital in Long Island have determined that controversial drugs such as Vioxx and Bextra may impede the body’s ability to purge excess cholesterol.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study that describes the effects of COX inhibition on reverse cholesterol transport proteins,” the authors wrote. “Our results suggest that the cardiovascular hazard observed with COX inhibitors may result not only from enhanced platelet aggregation [blood clots], but also from interference with cholesterol outflow.”

Drugs such as Vioxx and Bextra were commonly prescribed in the treatment of arthritis pain before they were each removed from the market by the FDA due to safety concerns. The new research suggests that these medications block the patient’s ability to process lipid loads, allowing cholesterol to build up. To this point, researchers have focused on the risk of blood clotting as the leading cause of cardiovascular problems in these patients. “Increased cardiovascular risk with COX inhibition may be ascribed at least in part to altered cholesterol metabolism,” they claim.

“Selective COX-2 inhibitors reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation with efficacy equivalent to non-selective NSAIDs, but with reduced gastrotoxicity,” the researchers note. “Unfortunately, adverse effects on coronary heart disease risk with prolonged use of COX-2s may offset any gastrointestinal benefit.”

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