Statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs, can greatly reduce the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes in patients by limiting the accumulation of harmful plaque inside the arteries.
While in most cases statin therapy is beneficial, new research in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that 28.9 percent of patients quit taking the medication within one year of starting treatment due to statin intolerance.
What Is Statin Intolerance?
Statin intolerance is simply when a patient is unable to continue taking a statin. This happens either because of abnormal markers in muscle or liver function following a blood test. Some have to stop taking statins because of unpleasant side effects.
Statin intolerance can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the individual. While some people show intolerance to only certain types of statin medications and doses, others are unable to endure all statins in any dosage size.
The most common symptom of statin intolerance is muscle aches and pains, or muscle myopathy. Typically, these pains are modest and don’t warrant stopping treatment. The symptoms can be completely reversed if the physician feels discontinuing the drug is the best option.
Risks Associated with Statin Intolerance
Many factors can be contributed to the increased risk of statin intolerance, including:
- pre-existing conditions, including kidney disease, liver disease, and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- female sex
- Asian ethnicity
- vitamin D deficiency
- age, particularly 75 years or older
- family history of muscle disorders
- excessive alcohol consumption
- drug interactions
- high-dose statin treatment
- rigorous exercise
Managing Statin Intolerance
In many situations, simply reducing the dosage can help with intolerance symptoms. Unfortunately this can also lessen the cholesterol-lowering benefits of the medication.
Your doctor may decide to take you off of statin medication and try alternative methods instead if the side effects cannot be controlled.
When statin medication isn’t an option, natural approaches have also been shown to decrease bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Nuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts such as:
Omega-3 fatty acids help to decrease the production of triglycerides in the liver. They also aid in thinning the blood and limiting the growth of plaque in the arteries. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Dietary fiber can be found in plant foods, such as:
Many foods containing soluble fiber, such as flax seed meal, oat bran, citrus fruits, and beans, are especially effective in lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Phytosterols (plant stanols and sterols) help decrease LDL cholesterol by stopping the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. They’re most often found in:
- whole grains
- vegetable oils
- salad dressings
- cholesterol-lowering margarines
- dietary supplements
By replacing fatty protein sources with soybeans or soy protein, you can lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and thus prevent heart disease. Great sources of soy protein include:
- Soy milk
- soy yogurt
- soy nuts
Popular soluble fiber supplement and laxatives sold on the market today contain seed grains known as psyllium husks. By consuming nine to 10 grams of psyllium daily, you can substantially reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. This is done most often by drinking a mixture of 1 teaspoon of psyllium and water before meals.
When taken in high doses, the B-complex vitamin niacin can help decrease LDL cholesterol and also raise levels of good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol.
There are habits you can do that will aid in lowering LDL cholesterol. These include:
- losing excess weight
- quitting smoking
- choosing a diet low in saturated fat
- starting an exercise regimen
By working together with your doctor, you can weigh the risks of discontinuing statin treatment versus the benefits before making a decision about the proper management of your statin intolerance.