High cholesterol levels in the blood is the main reason for people having heart attacks. The cholesterol builds up in the arteries and make the walls thicker and stiffer, so that it becomes harder for the blood to run through them.
You can lower your cholesterol levels by eating less saturated fat, more vegetables and fruit, and by regular exercise. More severe cases are treated with a groups of drugs called statins. Currently, one in five Swedes over the age of 50 - some 800,000 people - are taking such drugs to lower the cholesterol level in the blood.
But the statins are not always sufficiently effective and higher doses can have significant side effects, according to the scientists at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. In conjunction with American scientists, the Swedish researchers have tested a thyroid-hormon like substance which helps the liver to reduce the cholesterol in the blood by 30 %, without any serious side effects.
This is the first time a drug is tested on humans. There were 189 patients in Sweden and Finland who took the drug - in conjunction with their usual statins - over a period of three months.
In other words, there is quite a bit to go before the drug will actually be on the market. Science editor Karin Bojs at the daily Dagens Nyheter notes that it is controversial to put a lot of public money into research on cholesterol lowering medicine, since loss of weight and exercise in many cases could go a long way.
She also points out that statins have a proven track record, but that they are no longer very profitable for the drug companies, since the patent has expired.
But professor Bo Angelin at the Karolinska University Hospital hopes that the good results in this study will render them further funding to make more comprehensive studies. If all that goes well, the drug could be on the market in three to five years.