What are statins?
Statins work in two ways. First, they stop the production of cholesterol in your body. Second, they help your body reabsorb the cholesterol that has built plaques in your artery walls. This reduces your risk of blood vessel blockages and heart attacks.
Statins are typically very successful at lowering cholesterol, but they only work as long as you’re taking them. Therefore, most people who begin taking a statin medication will likely take it for the rest of their lives.
If you’ve been taking statins and would like to stop, you’ll need to do so with your doctor’s guidance. This is because it can be dangerous to stop taking statins. These drugs are highly effective in preventing heart problems such as heart attack and stroke. In fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), they can reduce your risk of these and other cholesterol-related problems by as much as 50 percent. The AHA looks at stopping the use of such effective medications as essentially doubling your risk of these health problems.
Read on to learn about how to stop the use of statins safely.
How to safely come off statins
It’s possible for some people to stop taking statins safely, but it can be especially risky for others. For instance, if you have a history of heart attack or stroke, it’s not recommended that you stop taking these drugs. This is because you’re more likely to have another such problem when you discontinue statins.
However, if you don’t have a history of heart attack or stroke and you want to stop taking statins, your first step should be to talk to your doctor. They can help you find out what your risk factors are, and if stopping statins is a safe move for you.
If your doctor thinks that you could safely stop taking your statin, they can suggest a plan for it. This plan may involve stopping statins entirely, or it may involve reducing your statin usage. Another option is to continue taking the statin but to add a supplement. One of these options is likely to address whatever problems taking statins causes for you.
If your doctor will be helping you stop taking statins entirely, some options they might suggest include switching to a different drug or adopting certain lifestyle changes.
Your doctor might suggest changing from a statin to a different type of cholesterol medication.
For instance, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following options for people with high cholesterol who cannot take statins:
- ezetimibe, another cholesterol medication
- a fibric acid supplement such as fenofibric acid, which can lower LDL levels and increase HDL levels
- a slow-release niacin supplement, which can lower LDL levels, increase HDL levels, and lower triglyceride levels
A different drug may be able to take the place of a statin in keeping your cholesterol levels in a safe range.
Adopting a diet and exercise program
Your doctor may suggest that you implement certain lifestyle changes before stopping the statin, or directly in place of the drug. These changes might include adopting an exercise program or modifying your diet. For example, the AHA suggests following a Mediterranean diet or vegan diet.
Keep in mind, though, that these changes likely won’t work as quickly or as effectively as a statin in lowering your cholesterol. A healthy diet and exercise program can have many benefits for your overall health, but it may not be enough to replace the cholesterol-lowering effects of a statin.
You and your doctor should closely monitor your cholesterol levels to make sure the diet and exercise changes are having the necessary effects on your cholesterol.
Reducing statin use
Instead of completely stopping your statin use, your doctor might suggest reducing your statin dosage. Less medication could mean fewer side effects, and the drug might still work well enough to manage your cholesterol levels.
Or your doctor could suggest reducing your statin dosage while adding another medication or supplement. This could resolve your issues with taking the drug, especially if they relate to side effects.
Adding other cholesterol drugs
Drugs your doctor could add to your medication regimen while reducing your statin use include ezetimibe, bile acid sequestrants, or niacin. These medications can help manage your cholesterol levels while you take the lower dosage of statins.
Adding L-carnitine supplements
L-carnitine supplements are another option, especially for people with diabetes. L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative made by your body. Preliminary studies have shown that taking L-carnitine twice daily could improve the effect of statins on LDL and also prevent a rise in blood sugar.
Adding CoQ10 supplements
Another option could be to supplement your reduced statin dosage with CoQ10, an enzyme your body makes naturally.
A case study reported that a man had stopped taking statins due to side effects. When the plaque levels in his blood vessels began to increase, he started taking a low-dose statin on alternating days, as well as daily CoQ10. His plaque levels decreased to a healthy level on this regimen.
Continuing statins with supplementation
If side effects are your concern with statins, your doctor may suggest continuing to take the same dosage of your statin, but adding a supplement of CoQ10.
Some studies suggest that this plan could help reduce side effects. This is likely because statins can cause the levels of CoQ10 in your body to drop, leading to side effects such as muscle problems. Taking CoQ10 supplements could help reverse these side effects.
Why you may want to
come off statins
Not everyone needs to stop taking statins. Many people take statins for decades without having any side effects or issues. For those individuals, the medications can be a very effective form of treatment and prevention for cholesterol problems.
Others may not have the same experience with statins. People who decide to quit taking statins may have several different reasons for doing so. The following are some of the most common reasons for quitting statins.
Statins can cause several side effects. Many of these side effects can be mild, such as muscle pain and cramps. Other side effects can be very severe, such as liver damage, muscle deterioration, and kidney failure.
Mild side effects may be managed, but moderate to severe side effects may become problematic or possibly dangerous. If you and your doctor decide that the danger or damage caused by the statin’s side effects outweighs the benefits of the medication, you may need to stop taking it.
Many types of statins are available today, and most are covered by health insurance plans. However, if you cannot afford to continue taking the statins your doctor prescribed, talk to your doctor. They can help you devise an alternative treatment plan.
Lowering your cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, or weight loss could eliminate your need to take statins or other cholesterol medications. If you can do that, that’s great! Reducing your cholesterol levels in this way can help reduce your overall risk of a heart attack, stroke, or blocked arteries while allowing you to take one less medication.
But don’t stop taking your statin because you think your cholesterol levels are automatically better because of your lifestyle changes. The only way to know if your cholesterol levels are in a healthy range is with a blood test. Your doctor can give you that test and let you know if you’re safe to stop taking your statin.
Talk with your doctor
If you want to stop taking your statin for any reason, talk with your doctor. If your doctor thinks it’s safe for you to consider changing your statin usage, they can help guide you. Reducing your dosage, adding supplements, or stopping the drug altogether might all be options.
Overall, the most important thing is to keep your cholesterol levels under control. Stopping statins on your own won’t accomplish that goal and could cause serious health risks. Work with your doctor to devise a treatment plan that can meet your cholesterol needs while keeping you safe and healthy.