Are Statins Safe for Lowering Cholesterol?
What Are Statins?
Your body needs some cholesterol to function normally, but too much can put you at risk for a heart attack. Following a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine are often the best ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. You may need extra help from drugs called statins. There are many different statins, and while they are generally safe, some patients experience side effects. Here, you’ll learn to understand the relationship between statins and cholesterol so you and your doctor can decide if they are right for you.
Fighting High Cholesterol
Your body has two types of cholesterol: LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol, and HDL, “good” cholesterol. Both are necessary for healthy cell function, but too much LDL can clog your arteries and could lead to heart failure. You can reduce LDL levels by avoiding foods that add cholesterol to your blood stream, and by exercising. Foods from animal sources, like eggs, meat, and dairy products can raise bad cholesterol. Exercise not only reduces the bad cholesterol in your body, but also can add good cholesterol.
When Diet and Exercise Alone Are Not Enough
Unfortunately, it’s possible to regularly exercise, eat a low-cholesterol diet and still have a problem with cholesterol. Some people find that they need extra help from statins to reduce their LDL. While it was previously thought that patients who had a family history of high LDL should only use statins, a recent study suggests that statins can help reduce heart attack risk.
How Statins Work
Although there are several different types of statins on the market, they are very similar in how they work, how well they work, and how well they are tolerated. Statins block an enzyme your body uses to make cholesterol. Some statins also help your body reabsorb cholesterol from clogged arteries. Most statins are quite successful in lowering LDL. Once your LDL is lowered, you still need to stay on your medication or your cholesterol numbers will go back up again.
Minor Side Effects
Most people are not bothered by statin side effects enough to stop taking them. The most common side effects are muscle aches and nausea. Depending on how your body reacts, you could experience lower intestinal problems like gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Your doctor can help you manage these side effects by changing your dose, or prescribing another statin.
Serious Side Effects
More serious side effects of taking statins are rare, but it’s important to know about them. Statins have been associated with liver problems, muscle problems, high blood sugar and diabetes, and temporary neurological problems like loss of memory. Higher doses of statins bring greater risk of serious side effects. Statins can also have serious side effects when they are taken with other medications or certain foods.
How Serious Are The Risks?
A recent study found that increased risk of diabetes was the most common serious side effect of taking statins. However, the small risk is considered outweighed by the drugs’ cholesterol-lowering benefits. Some statins may increase liver enzyme levels, but this is often reversible by changing statins. Although some people experience mental fogginess while taking a statin, and others have developed ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease on statin treatment, however the Mayo Clinic indicates there is no relationship.
Who Experiences Side Effects?
Some people are more likely than others to suffer from statin side effects. These individuals include:
- people over 65
- people taking more than one medication to lower cholesterol
- people who drink more than two alcoholic drinks a day
- people who already have kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes
Statins and Other Drugs and Foods
Taking statins with certain other drugs or foods can be dangerous. Drug interactions include statins and:
- HIV drugs
Grapefruit may interact with some statins. Ask your doctor about how much grapefruit is safe for you to consume.
Benefits of Statins
In addition to reducing LDL, statins may have a positive effect on several other health metrics. Statin use is related to a reduction in stroke and blood clotting risk. And while statins can cause temporary memory loss in some patients, there is promising evidence to suggest statins may help in Alzheimer’s disease.
The first line of defense against high LDL is always diet and exercise. Reduce the cholesterol-related foods you eat, and exercise for at least 20 minutes, three times a week. If your efforts fail to reduce cholesterol, talk to your doctor about taking statins. As researchers continue to study both the side effects and benefits attributed to statins, results suggest the benefits of taking them outweigh potential dangers.
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