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The Interaction Between Statins and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Know the Facts

Medically reviewed by Susan J. Bliss RPh, MBA on January 21, 2016Written by James Roland on January 21, 2016

What Are Statins?

Statins are widely prescribed medications that interfere with the production of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the liver. LDL is a dangerous type of cholesterol. LDL can form deposits known as plaques on the walls of arteries. These plaques can rupture and form clots. Clots can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. If the clot blocks blood flow to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.

Not all cholesterol is bad. Your body actually need some cholesterol to help produce important hormones and to help digest food. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered to be good cholesterol because it can help remove some LDL from the bloodstream. Too much LDL can clog the arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis.

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There are several different types of statins. Some are more potent than others. This is helpful because one statin may not be enough to lower your LDL levels to a healthy target. Another type may be able to do the job.

Determining the right dosage for you can also take some experimentation. People taking statins usually start with a low dose, unless their LDL numbers are sky high. From there, the dose can be increased. If you’re experiencing side effects, doses can be lowered to reduce or eliminate complications.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids. That means that omega-3s should be a part of everyone’s regular diet. They are associated with cholesterol improvement, a reduced risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and better overall heart health.

Omega-3s contain the key ingredients eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Adults should aim for a daily intake of EPA and DHA of 0.3 to 0.5 grams. Some plant oils, nuts, and seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. A daily ALA intake of 0.8 to 1.1 grams is also advised if you’re getting your omega-3s from non-fish sources.

Is There a Link?

Statins and omega-3s are both well-established medications proven to help lower cholesterol and improve heart health. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to combine the two for maximum effect, rest assured.

Research presented at the 2014 National Lipid Association Scientific Sessions found that when they’re used in conjunction, the risk of cardiovascular disease might be significantly lowered. The study found that combining an EPA omega-3 fatty acid and a statin was 50 percent better at reversing blood vessel damage than a statin-only approach. EPA omega-3s are commonly found in fish oils.

Researchers suggested that a therapeutic strategy using this combination might be beneficial for people with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

More research on the protections that omega-3s and statins may provide is needed.

How to Add the Combination to Your Routine

Statins are prescription drugs. Your doctor will decide whether you should begin statin therapy, as well as the type of statin and dosage that’s right for you.

Statins are appropriate for people with moderate to high LDL levels or other cardiovascular disease risks. Risks can include the following:

  • a previous heart attack or stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • a history of smoking
  • diabetes

The American Heart Association recommends statin therapy if you have an LDL cholesterol level of 70 to 189 milligrams per deciliter. It’s also recommended if you have a 7.5 percent or higher risk of a heart attack or stroke within 10 years. Adults with an LDL of 190 milligrams per deciliter should also be considered for statin therapy.

Why Should You Take Statins at Night?

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in over-the-counter supplements. They’re also found in high concentrations in certain foods, including:

  • cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • plant oils
  • leafy greens
  • dairy products

Eating fish twice per week, as well as walnuts, spinach, and eggs throughout the week should provide your diet an adequate amount of omega-3s.

Speaking with Your Doctor

If you think your diet or routine doesn’t provide enough omega-3s, talk with your doctor about ways to boost your intake. Likewise, if your annual blood work shows your LDL levels are creeping up, talk about whether starting statin therapy would be beneficial for you.

If you currently take a statin, be sure to report any symptoms, such as muscle pain. A change in the type or dosage of your statin may be all it takes to fix the problem. You should also talk about whether your statin is doing an adequate job at controlling your cholesterol.

It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor about your cardiovascular health risks. Ask about your risk for stroke or heart attack. If you’re at risk, it’s important to discuss ways you can start improving your cardiovascular health.

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