What are statins?
Statins are widely prescribed medications that interfere with the production of cholesterol in the liver. They can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.
LDL is a dangerous type of cholesterol because it can form deposits known as plaques on the walls of arteries. These plaques can rupture and form clots. Clots in turn can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke. If a clot blocks blood flow to the heart, it can cause a heart attack.
Not all cholesterol is bad. Your body actually needs some cholesterol to produce important hormones and to 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.
There are several different types of statins. Like all medications, what works for one person may not work for another. This is important because one statin may not be effective enough to manage your cholesterol. Another type may be needed to do the job.
Determining the right medication and dosage for you can also take some experimentation. People taking statins usually start with the dose recommended for their health issues. 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. Research suggests that regular intake is 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 at least .25 grams and no more than 2 grams without doctor recommendation due to risk of bleeding. Some plant oils, nuts, and seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. The Office of Dietary Supplements advises a daily ALA intake of 1.1 grams for nonpregnant adult women and 1.6 grams for men for those getting omega-3s from non-fish sources.
Is there a link?
Statins are well-established medications proven to help lower cholesterol and improve heart health. Omega-3s may also have a role.
If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to combine the two for maximum effect, here’s what a 2017 study found: Combining 1,800 milligrams (mg) of EPA with a 4 mg dose of statin each day significantly reduced the cholesterol plaques in heart blood vessels compared to taking the statin alone.
A therapeutic strategy using this combination might be beneficial for people with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. More research on the potential protections that the combination of omega-3s and statins could provide is needed, however.
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. These risks can include the following:
- a previous heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular condition
- familial hypercholesterolemia
- high risk for future heart disease
The American Heart Association recommends statin therapy if you have an LDL cholesterol level of 70 to 189 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and you have diabetes. The association also recommends this therapy if you have a 7.5 percent or higher risk of a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years. Any adult with an LDL of 190 mg/dL should also be considered for statin therapy.
High blood pressure, obesity, and smoking increases your risk of heart disease no matter your cholesterol level.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available as over-the-counter supplements. They’re also found in high concentrations in certain foods, including:
- cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna
- plant oils
- leafy greens
- fortified dairy products
Eating fish twice per week or omega-3 rich foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, leafy vegetables, 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 stiffness, soreness, or 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, heart attack, or other forms of heart disease. If you’re at risk, it’s important to discuss ways you can start improving your cardiovascular health.