Study: Anti-HIV drugs do not raise cholesterol levels

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 11 2003 11:00 PM ET

A new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh shows that anti-HIV medications do not appear to significantly raise cholesterol levels in HIV-positive men, contradicting a widely held belief that the medications, particularly protease inhibitors, boost cholesterol. The study, published in the June 11 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed blood data over a 12-year span from 50 HIV-positive men, including tests administered before they were infected with the virus and screenings given at several points during antiretroviral treatment between 1997 and 2002.

The researchers found that before HIV infection, the participants had an average total cholesterol level of 201 mg/dL; LDL--or bad cholesterol--levels of 122 mg/DL; and HDL--or good cholesterol--levels of 51. After an average of three years of antiretroviral drug therapy, the cholesterol levels reached an average of 221 mg/dL total cholesterol and 121 mg/dL LDL cholesterol, numbers not significantly higher than pre-infection levels, the researchers say. However, HDL cholesterol levels dropped about 18%, and triglyceride levels were higher than average.

"The mean increase in total cholesterol of 20 milligrams noted in the study is consistent with a similar total cholesterol level increase in healthy men as they age and would be considered a normal increase for the study participants over the 12-year span of our analysis," lead researcher Sharon Riddler said in a press release. The scientists plan additional cholesterol studies and urge other researchers to examine the possible link between anti-HIV drugs and increased blood lipid levels, particularly among women and minorities who were not represented in their study.