Statins are prescription medications that can help lower your cholesterol levels. They may do this by either stopping the production of cholesterol or helping reabsorb existing cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. It’s found in every cell of the body.

Your body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs to function properly. However, the foods you eat may supplement cholesterol levels.

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is referred to as the “good” cholesterol. It helps remove excess cholesterol from your body.

LDL is referred to as the “bad” cholesterol because it creates buildup in your arteries. This can lead to blocked arteries and the potential for a heart attack or stroke.

To reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, your doctor may recommend you take a statin medication to lower your cholesterol.

This article explains how statins help lower cholesterol. It also provides tips for taking statins and managing your cholesterol levels.

Doctors recommend statin medications for people with high cholesterol or people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Statins work in two ways to reduce your cholesterol:

  1. Statins stop the production of cholesterol: Statins block an enzyme involved in making cholesterol particles. Reducing production lowers the total amount of cholesterol available in your bloodstream.
  2. Statins help reabsorb existing cholesterol: Your body needs cholesterol to perform certain tasks. These tasks include:
    • helping you digest food
    • making hormones
    • absorbing vitamin D

Since statins lower the amount of cholesterol your liver makes, your liver must get cholesterol from circulating blood. With statins, your liver puts LDL receptors on its surface that capture circulating LDL particles, lowering your blood cholesterol levels to prevent cholesterol from depositing in your arteries.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of high cholesterol and are taking statins or plan to take statins in the near future, here are some helpful tips for managing your medications and your health.

Follow your doctor’s orders

Your cholesterol levels are closely related to your overall health. That’s why it’s so important to adhere to your doctor’s prescription and keep your cholesterol numbers in a heart-healthy range.

Don’t skip doses

When it comes to drugs, skipping doses or stopping your medication without first talking with your doctor could cost you your life. A 2019 research study notes that stopping statin use was associated with a significantly increased risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular events.

Get regular testing

If you’re taking statins, your doctor needs to monitor your blood and overall health for signs of complications related to the medication. Make and keep regular appointments for blood tests and checkups.

Often, blood tests are the first and best way for your doctor to spot a potential problem before symptoms or complications appear.

Don’t stop taking statins without first talking with your doctor

Statins are a well-tolerated medication, but some people may experience side effects. While serious side effects are rare, some people complain of muscle soreness. In many cases, this may not be attributed to the statin at all.

In any case, talk with a doctor before stopping your medication. You may better tolerate an alternative statin medication or dosing regimen.

Live a healthy lifestyle

Medications can certainly help, but the ultimate way to improve your health is to eat more nutritious foods and less processed ones, move more, and take care of your body.

It’s true that people with a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol may still have LDL levels that are dangerous. But an overall healthy lifestyle can help prevent many conditions and diseases, including ones that increase your risk of heart disease.

Is there a downside to taking statins?

Statins are highly effective at reducing LDL cholesterol levels, but some people may experience side effects that they attribute to their medication, including:

  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • digestive issues, like constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion
  • mental fuzziness
  • sleep issues

If you’re experiencing side effects that are not severe, don’t stop taking your medication without talking with your doctor first. They can recommend a different dose or a different medication.

How do statins remove cholesterol from the body?

Statins lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the liver’s production of cholesterol and increasing the liver’s ability to reabsorb cholesterol that’s already in your bloodstream.

Do statins clear the arteries of plaque?

Yes. Statins can reduce the amount of fatty deposits in your arteries. They can also stabilize existing plaque deposits, making them less likely to break off and cause a blood clot.

Do statins lower cholesterol immediately?

Cholesterol-lowering medications like statins can lower your cholesterol levels quickly, often within 4 weeks.

If your LDL cholesterol levels are higher than they should be, talk with a doctor about the best way to return your numbers to a safe and healthy range.

Your doctor may first suggest a change in diet and exercise. Sometimes these lifestyle changes are enough to reverse your cholesterol numbers.

Statins are an option, but they may not be the first step your doctor wants to try. The most important thing is that you take the initiative to meet with a doctor and find a solution that helps you live a healthy, happy life.