Take a look at all the news reports and ads on TV and in magazines, and it seems statins are a miracle drug: They lower cholesterol and seem to ward off a host of health problems. But are they right for you?
Statins offer a one-two punch against heart disease. They reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes and help the liver remove the cholesterol that’s already floating in your blood. They also lower blood fats known as triglycerides, give a small boost to good cholesterol and reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation. In fact, the pills may even reduce heart-attack risk in people with high CRP and normal cholesterol.
Most people take statins like Lipitor, Zocor or Crestor once a day, in the evening (when the body makes more cholesterol), and see (but don’t necessarily feel) the effects within several weeks.
Yes, statins are good for your heart. But researchers are looking to confirm additional benefits. Statins may also:
- help prevent osteoporosis
- lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia
- protect your kidneys
Most people tolerate statins well and may only experience gas, upset stomach, constipation, abdominal pain or cramps, muscle aches and other side effects that usually go away.
Statins can do wonders for high cholesterol levels, but they’re not a ticket to eat whatever you feel like. Your healthcare provider will want you to try a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, paired with increased physical activity and weight control. Only when these methods don’t work will medication be considered. Your healthcare provider will also take into account whether you have other risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of heart disease and narrowing of arteries (peripheral vascular disease). In many cases, statins will need to be taken for the rest of your life.
While serious side effects are rare, they can occur. These include liver damage, caused by an increase in liver enzymes, and muscle damage. And there has been some speculation about whether statins can cause cancer, but at least one major report has discredited this theory.
In the end, only you and your healthcare provider can determine whether statins are right for you.