An international team of researchers has found that the statin class of pharmaceuticals — which are prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attack — also reduce the formation of brown adipose fatty tissue. Unlike white adipose tissue, brown adipose tissue helps convert sugar and fat into heat, making people better at regulating body temperature and reduces the risk of excess weight gain and diabetes. Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs worldwide.
They found that the biochemical pathway responsible for producing cholesterol has a central role in this process. They also found that the key molecule regulating the transformation is the metabolite geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate. Their earlier studies showed that the cholesterol biochemical pathway is also central to the functioning of statins. One of their effects is to reduce the production of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate. This led to the researchers finding a link between the formation of brown adipose tissue and statins. A study of 8,500 people at the University Hospital Zurich showed that while 6 percent of individuals not taking statins had brown adipose tissue, it was only present in around one percent of individuals who were taking statins.
However, Wolfrum has warned against any knee-jerk reactions to this development. “We also have to consider that statins are incredibly important as a way to prevent cardiovascular disease. They save millions of lives around the world, and they are prescribed for a very good reason,” he says. However, he did mention he was concerned about the relationship between diabetes and statins, “It’s possible that these two effects — the reduction in brown adipose tissue and the slightly increased risk of diabetes – are related.” He added that more research was needed which could eventually lead to a more personalized approach to treating heart disease and related medical issues.