- Ceramides are fatty compounds linked to cardiovascular disease, according to researchers.
- Drugs that limit ceramide production, according to animal studies, might protect not just cardiovascular disease but also diabetes.
- Statins, which decrease cholesterol levels in the blood to prevent heart disease and stroke, may raise the risk of type 2 diabetes or aggravate it if it already exists.
- More scientists should examine ceramides, according to a review report, in order to develop a new type of medicine that might complement statins.
In the United States, around 38% of individuals have excessive levels of cholesterol in their blood, putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Taking statins, or cholesterol-lowering medicines, is one strategy to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Despite the fact that the medications have been found to protect against cardiovascular disease in several trials, some evidence shows that they may aggravate type 2 diabetes.
In a review paper published in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, the authors call for the creation of medications to lower levels of a different type of lipid. Ceramides are the names given to these medications by scientists.
Ceramides are a type of fatty molecule, or lipid, similar to cholesterol, that play an important part in the construction of cell membranes as well as the creation of other lipids.
The authors of the review point out that, independent of cholesterol, there is a robust link between high blood ceramide concentrations and heart disease and diabetes in people.
Some clinics are now measuring ceramide levels to estimate patients’ risk of certain illnesses, according to the authors.
Furthermore, laboratory trials on mice on high-fat diets imply that ceramides are partly to blame for heart disease and diabetes, rather than being unintended consequences of these diseases.
When scientists utilize medications or genetic techniques to lower ceramide production in animals, the animals are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Ceramides have also been shown in animal experiments to increase fat accumulation, decrease glucose usage, and lower the efficiency of mitochondria, the cell’s power plants.
These are all symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes diabetes, high blood pressure, and diabetes that puts a person at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Scott Summers, Ph.D., of the University of Utah College of Health in Salt Lake City, says, “Basically, we want to get as many laboratories as possible investigating this critical chemical.”
“Several companies, including one I co-founded (Centaurus Therapeutics), have been trying to develop ceramide-lowering interventions,” Dr. Summers told Medical News Today.
“Thus far, none have entered the clinics, but I think some companies are close,” he added.
Shortcomings of statins
In addition to cholesterol, statins lower the amount of ceramides in the circulation.
The medications, however, have no effect on the body’s ceramide production. Instead, they lower the creation of lipoproteins, the molecules that transport them through the circulation.
“Statins block cholesterol synthesis, which in turn leads to secondary inhibition of lipoprotein production and secretion,” Dr. Summers stated to MNT.
“Statins don’t block ceramide synthesis directly. Rather, they lower circulating ceramides because of the effects on lipoproteins,” he stated “.
So, why go to the bother of creating new ceramide drugs?
According to Dr. Summers, ceramides cause injury in organs such as the liver rather than in the circulation.
“The problem is, ceramides do most of their actions in tissues, not in the blood,” he said.
“As a result, for people on statins, the ceramides likely accumulate in the liver, which is potentially problematic,” he added.
He believes this explains some of the statin’s negative effects, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Adding a ceramide-lowering therapy to statin therapy is definitely something that should be investigated,” he stated.
Exercise as a form of therapy
Not everyone agrees that developing a new class of medications to limit ceramide production is necessary.
Dr. Justin Carrard, a sports and exercise medicine expert from the University of Basel in Switzerland, has published a review study on the influence of physical activity on ceramide levels in the journal Metabolites.
Preliminary research suggests that frequent exercise lowers ceramide levels. Furthermore, people who have strong cardiorespiratory fitness had lower levels of numerous forms of ceramide.
Dr. Carrard told MNT, “There is now compelling scientific evidence that ceramides have a future as biomarkers to stratify cardiovascular risks.”
More study is needed, he added, to see if physical exercise might help decrease ceramide levels.
“However, I strongly believe that this will become a new area of global interest in the medical community,” he added.
Dr. Carrard questioned why additional medications were needed when an exercise regimen might accomplish the same results.
He stated, “
“Working in the field of sport and exercise medicine, I am personally convinced that exercise is one of the best drugs we have on the market. Exercise is cheap, safe, accessible to most patients (there is very little contraindication to exercising), and patient-empowering.”
He emphasized that exercise has a positive impact on the entire body. Drugs, on the other hand, target a specific receptor in one or a few organs.
“Consequently, I am not so sure how much we need a ceramide-lowering drug,” he concluded.