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Beyond Low-Density Lipoprotein

Addressing the Atherogenic Lipid Triad in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and the Metabolic Syndrome


The metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes mellitus are both becoming more prevalent, and both increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many patients are not receiving appropriate treatment for the type of dyslipidemia that commonly occurs in these disorders — the so-called ‘atherogenic lipid triad’ of high serum triglyceride levels, low serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels, and a preponderance of small, dense, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) particles.

All of the processes involved in atherogenesis can be exacerbated by insulin resistance and/or the metabolic syndrome. Hypertriglyceridemia is a strong predictor of coronary heart disease. There is also an inverse relationship between serum levels of HDL-C and triglycerides in diabetic patients, with low serum HDL-C levels possibly representing an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Small, dense, LDL-C particles are also highly atherogenic as they are more likely to form oxidized LDL and are less readily cleared. Insulin resistance, which is central to the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes mellitus, leads to high levels of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which contain a high concentration of triglycerides, resulting in high serum triglyceride levels and low serum HDL-C levels.

Even though modification of the atherogenic lipid triad is probably one of the most effective methods of reducing cardiovascular risk, therapy for diabetic dyslipidemia is often directed to first lowering serum LDL-C levels with a HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor. This may leave substantial excess risk for cardiovascular disease in patients with these types of dyslipidemia. The results of recent trials evaluating HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors have been mixed, with two showing no significant effect on cardiovascular outcomes in subgroups of diabetic patients. The recent CARDS (Collaborative Atorvastatin Diabetes Study) showed that atorvastatin can reduce cardiovascular events in a trial specifically designed for a diabetic population, though the population had to have at least one other risk factor in addition to diabetes mellitus.

Fibric acid derivatives, such as fenofibrate, bezafibrate and gemfibrozil, are potentially well suited to the treatment of dyslipidemia that is generally associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus and the metabolic syndrome, as they are usually more effective than HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors for normalizing serum levels of HDL-C and triglycerides. Promising results have been obtained from several trials of fibric acid derivatives including the BIP (Bezafibrate Infarction Prevention) study and the VA-HIT (Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program HDL-C Intervention Trial; gemfibrozil). The FIELD (Fenofibrate Intervention and Event Lowering in Diabetes) trial, a clinical outcomes trial specifically designed to evaluate fenofibrate in a large population of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, many of whom have the metabolic syndrome, is underway. The FIELD trial results should shed light on the efficacy and safety of fenofibrate in reducing cardiovascular morbidity in diabetic and metabolic syndrome patients and on the safety profile of combination therapy with fenofibrate and a HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor.

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The preparation of this manuscript was supported by Fournier. The author has received honoraria from Fournier. The author would like to thank Grace Townshend for editorial support in the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Prof. Richard W. Nesto.

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Nesto, R.W. Beyond Low-Density Lipoprotein. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs 5, 379–387 (2005).

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  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Fenofibrate
  • Ezetimibe
  • Gemfibrozil
  • Fibric Acid Derivative