What are statins?
Statins are a class of drugs that are designed to lower cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is necessary for the body and cells to function well. The problem is when the levels of low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) become too high in the body. This 'bad cholesterol' is unhealthy and can lead to fatty deposits forming in your arteries causing atherosclerosis. It puts you at risk of heart disease, heart attack, angina and stroke.1
How do statins work?
Statins work by blocking an enzyme in the liver that is responsible for producing cholesterol, called HMG-CoA reductase. Statins can also help your body to break down and reabsorb cholesterol deposits that have built up in the artery walls. They are also certain statins that promote the increase of HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol production in the body.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed medication in the UK, and there is a wide range available. In fact, the number of statin prescriptions issued each year in the UK is in excess of 58 million. The most popular ones available are Simvastatin, Crestor, Fluvastatin, Lipitor, Pravastatin, Atorvastatin, Lescol, Lipostat, Zocor. They all work in largely the same way, but their strengths do vary. Your doctor will help you choose the right statin medication for you.
Statins are easily consumed by taking a tablet once a day. It is usually advised that you take them at the same time each day, for example just before bed. Most people they will remain on statins for life, as once you stop your cholesterol levels will increase again.
containing lipoproteins Cholesterol produced in your liver cells enters the the bloodstream Cholesterol BLOOD LDL Atherosclerotic plaque
What are statins used for?
Statins are an extremely effective treatment for high cholesterol. According to the American Association of Cardiology, there are four main groups of people that statins are primarily used to treat:
- People who have very high LDL cholesterol compared to HDL cholesterol, in excess of 190mg/dl or higher.
- People who have cholesterol levels between 70mg/dl and 189mg/dl, plus have diabetes.
- People who have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, including those who have suffered strokes due to blockages or heart attacks.
- People who are at a higher 10-year risk of heart attack and have cholesterol levels in excess of 100mg/dl.
Benefits of statin use
Statins are primarily used for treating high cholesterol and increasing the amount of HDL (high density lipoproteins) in the system, but have also been found to have some other unexpected health benefits.
Statins have anti-inflammatory properties which can help in stabilising blood vessel linings. This can improve general heart and circulation health – improving blood flow to organs, reducing high blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attacks.
A 2012 Danish Study, found that statins seem to have a positive effect when battling cancer. In fact, they found that people who were regularly taking statin medication for cholesterol, when they were diagnosed with cancer, were 15% less likely to die.2
Another US-based study in 2012 found that statins can help reduce people's risk of developing oesophageal cancer. In an analysis of data representing over 1 million patients, they found strong evidence to suggest that statins could reduce the risk of oesophageal cancer by as much as 30%.3
Side effects of using statins
Statins are well tolerated by most people, and their benefits are deemed to far outweigh their risks. In fact, the British Heart Foundation describe them as one of most studied and safest types of medication available. Some mild side effects can be experienced, such as nausea, pins and needles, headaches, diarrhoea and muscle aches.
It is also possible, but rare, to experience some more serious side effects such as:
- Muscle pain and muscle cell breakdown causing the release of Myoglobin, which can be damaging to kidneys.
- Increased blood glucose levels, which can contribute to Type 2 diabetes.
- Increased liver enzymes which can damage the liver.
- Memory loss and confusion.
Lowering high cholesterol and lipid levels
Statins are the most effective way to lower very high cholesterol and lipid levels, but you can also help lower your cholesterol by making certain lifestyle changes:
- Cut trans-fats from your diet
- Try and lose weight – even just 10 pounds could cut your LDL level by 8%
- Stay physically active and get exercising
- Eat more fibre – just 5 or 10 grams each day can see your LDL drop
- Introduce fish to your diet – two to four times a week
- Opt for olive oil
- Snack on nuts – the sterols they contain help absorb cholesterol
- Try and avoid stress
- Introduces spices and garlic to your cooking
- Quit smoking
There are also some over the counter treatments such as aspirin and niacin that may be recommended. Ezetimibe is an alternative drug that is recommended to people who can't take statins or to use in conjunction with statins to lower LDL levels.
Can statins be combined with exercise/medication?
A study published in the medical journal Lancet, found that both exercise and statins independently can lower cholesterol and lipid levels. But it is the combined power of both that really sees the biggest benefits. It concluded that a combination of statins and exercise, is the most effective treatment for high cholesterol and lowered associated mortality rates.4
Statins are one of the most prescribed medications in the UK. They are safe to take in conjunction with many other medications, but it's important to always consult with your doctor first. The following medications can all be purchased online, by completing our hassle-free online consultation.