Lead author Dr. Binh An P. Phan, a cardiologist at Loyola University Health System, said previous studies documented the short-term benefits of taking a combination of two or three cholesterol drugs aimed at aggressively lowering low-density lipoprotein, the "bad," cholesterol and raising high-density lipoprotein, the "good," cholesterol. The study is the first to show such benefits are maintained over a period of 20 years, Phan said.
In the study, one group took the statin medication lovastatin, or Mevacor, plus the medication colestipol that binds to cholesterol. A second group took colestipol plus niacin. A third group took a placebo.
Both groups of study participants had a similar age and fatty build-up in their blood vessels and after 20 years, the group taking the combination therapy had a "vascular age" 10.2 years younger than the group taking a single statin. Vascular age reflects how old an individual's blood vessels appear to be, based on risk factors and the amount of plaque buildup -- it can be higher or lower than an individual's chronological age.
The study found compared with patients who took a single statin, patients who received a combination-drug therapy had dramatically lower levels of LDL and triglycerides, higher HDL and less fatty build-up in the carotid artery in the head and neck.
The findings were presented at the National Lipid Association scientific sessions.