Although the effects of 3-hydroxy, 3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors and bile acid sequestrants on bile lipid composition have been studied separately, no data are available on combination therapy of these drugs. Moreover, the effects of prolonged (four weeks) administration of these drugs on gall bladder motility, an important determinant of cholesterol gall stone formation, have not been studied so far. A prospective study was therefore performed with eight patients who had hypercholesterolaemia (age 53 (5) (SEM), body mass index 27.4 (1.1) kg m-2, low density lipoprotein cholesterol 5.9 (0.3) mmol/l). They received treatment during three periods of four weeks with simvastatin 20 mg/day, cholestyramine 4 g twice daily, and a combination of both in random order, each treatment period separated by a two week wash out period. Before treatment and after each treatment period, postprandial gall bladder motility was studied with ultrasound, followed by duodenal bile sampling. Serum cholesterol decreased in all subjects in any treatment period illustrating good compliance. Molar percentages in duodenal bile of cholesterol, phospholipids, and bile salts were unchanged during simvastatin and cholestyramine treatment. During combined therapy percentage bile salts was lower (72.5 (2.9)% v 77.8 (1.7)% at baseline, p < 0.05) whereas phospholipids were higher (21.2 (2.4)% v 16.4 (1.3)% at baseline, p < 0.05). As a result cholesterol saturation index (CSI) did not change in any treatment period. No cholesterol crystals were detected in any bile sample, taken at baseline and after each treatment period. Bile salt hydrophobicity index during cholestyramine (0.19 (0.02)) and combined treatment (0.22 (0.01)) decreased strongly compared with baseline (0.34 (0.01), p < 0.001, p < 0.01, respectively), resulting from increased proportions of glycocholate (59.4 (3.9)% (cholestyramine), 55.6 (2.4)% (combination), and 28.2 (2.2) (baseline), p < 0.001)) and decreased proportions of deoxycholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid. Fasting gall bladder volume was increased during simvastatin (28.7 (2.8) ml) v baseline (23.2 (2.3) ml, p < 0.01) whereas, residual volume did not differ (5.7 (0.9) ml (simvastatin) v 5.9 (0.7) (baseline). During cholestyramine and combined treatment, no significant differences in gall bladder motility were seen. In conclusion, this study suggests that HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors alone and combined with cholestyramine do not affect major determinants of cholesterol gall stone formation, for example, CSI and gall bladder emptying. In addition cholestyramine alone and combined with simvastatin leads to a strong decrease of bile salt hydrophobicity, which may be beneficial in the prevention of nucleation of cholesterol crystals.
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