A very old drug derived from the foxglove plant (Digitalis purpurea) may turn out to be surprisingly effective against heart disease. (How old? you may ask. Its first mention in medical literature dates to 1785. Presumably, it was in popular use even before that publication.)
Digitalis has been used for hundreds of years to treat heart failure, a condition in which the heart no longer is able to pump blood efficiently. It is most widely prescribed under the name digoxin (Lanoxin). In recent years this drug has fallen out of favor, but it is still prescribed for an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.
Digoxin Lowers Cholesterol in Mice:
Now, researchers have discovered that this old heart medicine has the ability to lower total cholesterol by 41 percent, LDL cholesterol by 20 percent and triglycerides by 54 percent in mice. In addition, digoxin suppresses inflammation that contributes to plaque in arteries.
These mice were genetically manipulated to lack ApoE. They were being fed a Western-style diet. That diet, mimicking our fondness for burgers, fries and milkshakes, is quite effective at inducing atherosclerosis in these laboratory animals.
Mouse research does not always carry over to benefits for human beings. Still, these results are intriguing.
The authors conclude that their “results provide convincing evidence that digoxin exerts protective effects against atherosclerosis.”
Perhaps it is time for cardiologists to take another look at the value of digoxin in treating heart disease.
British Journal of Pharmacology, online, Feb. 16, 2016