Articles

Policosanol safely down-regulates HMG-CoA reductase - potential as a component of the Esselstyn regimen

Author

McCarty M

Date

9/2002

Journal

Med Hypotheses

Abstract

Many of the wide-ranging health benefits conferred by statin therapy are mediated, not by reductions in LDL cholesterol, but rather by inhibition of isoprenylation reactions essential to the activation of Rho family GTPases; this may be the mechanism primarily responsible for the favorable impact of statins on risk for ischemic stroke, senile dementia, and fractures, as well as the anti-hypertensive and platelet-stabilizing actions of these drugs. Indeed, the extent of these benefits is such as to suggest that most adults would be wise to take statins; however, owing to the significant expense of statin therapy, as well as to the potential for dangerous side effects that mandates regular physician follow-up, this strategy appears impractical. However, policosanol, a mixture of long-chain aliphatic alcohols extractable from sugar cane wax, has shown cholesterol-lowering potency comparable to that of statins, and yet appears to be devoid of toxic risk. Recent evidence indicates that policosanol down-regulates cellular expression of HMG-CoA reductase, and thus has the potential to suppress isoprenylation reactions much like statins do. Consistent with this possibility, the results of certain clinical and animal studies demonstrate that policosanol has many effects analogous to those of statins that are not likely explained by reductions of LDL cholesterol. However, unlike statins, policosanol does not directly inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, and even in high concentrations it fails to down-regulate this enzyme by more than 50% - thus likely accounting for the safety of this nutraceutical. In light of the fact that policosanol is quite inexpensive and is becoming available as a non-prescription dietary supplement, it may represent a practical resource that could enable the general public to enjoy health benefits comparable to those conferred by statins. In a long-term clinical study enrolling patients with significant symptomatic coronary disease, Esselstyn has demonstrated that a low-fat, whole-food vegan diet, coupled with sufficient statin therapy to maintain serum cholesterol below 150mg/dL, can stop the progression of coronary disease and virtually eliminate further risk for heart attack. A comparable regimen, in which policosanol is used in place of statins, may represent a practical strategy whereby nearly everyone willing to commit to health-protective eating can either prevent coronary disease, or prevent pre-existing coronary disease from progressing to a life-threatening event.