Is bempedoic acid an alternative to a statin?

Published: Monday, July 17, 2023
Non-invasive Cardiologist

If you’ve flipped on the news recently, you may have seen reports about a new medication for treating high cholesterol. What’s the scoop about bempedoic acid?

We’ve got the answer: It’s an exciting new medication that can help lower cholesterol levels. Most people who are diagnosed with high cholesterol, also called hyperlipidemia, are treated using a combination of lifestyle changes and a class of medications known as statins.

While statins are lifesaving medications recommended by most physicians, some patients may experience intolerable side-effects, and bempedoic acid may provide an alternative for treating high cholesterol in those patients.

When should a person take bempedoic acid?

When a person is first diagnosed with high cholesterol, medical providers are likely to recommend trying lifestyle changes to lower “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL). Exercising more often, eating a diet rich in protein, fruits and vegetables, and getting to a healthier weight can all help lower cholesterol in many cases.

If these lifestyle changes don’t make an impact on a person’s cholesterol though, statins are usually the next recommendation. This class of medications has been used for more than three decades, and may help lower cholesterol to a healthier range, in addition to lowering the risk of cardiac events. 

While these medications are considered safe and effective, statins may also have some side effects. Some people who take a statin may experience muscle pains, sometimes to a debilitating extent. 

Trying a different type of statin may provide the cholesterol-lowering benefits without the pain, but that isn’t always the case. Up to 20-30 percent of people simply can’t tolerate statin use.

When that’s the case, bempedoic acid may be an option. This medication, sold under the brand name Nexletol, works similarly to statins by blocking the production of cholesterol in the liver.

The difference is that bempedoic acid isn’t activated until it reaches the liver, which means it doesn’t negatively impact the muscles or structures in other parts of the body. 

How effective is bempedoic acid at lowering cholesterol?

Bempedoic acid isn’t entirely new. It’s been approved by the FDA for use since 2020, but use of the medication as a standalone treatment has been sparse because there was no significant research on its clinical effectiveness.

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine is likely to change that. The research study, which involved nearly 14,000 statin-intolerant participants in 32 countries, found that those who were treated with bempedoic acid saw a 21.7 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol compared with those who received a placebo. 

In addition to a substantial decrease in cholesterol levels, bempedoic acid also lowered the risk of serious cardiovascular issues such as heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death. 

It’s important to note that, like any medication, bempedoic acid may cause some side effects. Because it can increase the levels of uric acid and creatinine in the blood, it may not be a suitable medication for those who have gout.

But for other people with high cholesterol who experience side effects with statin use, this medication may be a good alternative for lowering cholesterol without muscle pain.

If you think this medication may be a good fit in your case, talk with your physician. Your medical provider will consider your diagnosis, the medications you’ve tried previously, and other factors to determine whether this medication is right for you.

Next Steps

Struggling to lower your cholesterol? Connect with our care team at the Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids at Georgia Heart Institute at (770) 219-0960 to find the help you need to manage your cholesterol and heart health.