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Statins and Other Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs:
What Are the Risks and Alternatives?

Millions of Americans take statin drugs, the so-called "wonder" drugs that lower bad cholesterol, thereby protecting against heart disease. Some 203 million prescriptions for the drugs were written in 2006, raking in close to $16.5 billion, according to health care information company IMS Health Inc.


Statin drugs bring in $16.5 billion a year.

Statins, now the second-most prescribed drugs in the United States (antidepressants are the most prescribed), work by interfering with an enzyme that your body needs to make cholesterol. Along with lowering cholesterol, the drugs -- which include Lipitor, Zocor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor and others -- may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has accumulated on your artery walls, helping to prevent further blockage.

Now the standard treatment for people at risk of heart disease or with high cholesterol, statins have become a household word. In Britain, they are even planning to recommend the drugs to anyone who has a 20 percent chance or more of developing heart disease over the next 10 years -- even if they have no symptoms. This would add as many as 14 million people to the list of those "needing" statins.

"This is turning people into patients," says Dr. Peter Brindle, a researcher in cardiovascular disease at Bristol University, of the new recommendations. "They are going to be offered this preventative drug for the rest of their life with all the risks and side effects. There has to be a public debate about whether society feels this should be done."

Statin drugs, of course, are not without risk, and questions are being raised as to whether the benefits of lower cholesterol outweigh the drugs' potential side effects -- particularly when diet and lifestyle changes can often do the trick as well.

The Risks of Statin Drugs

Statin drugs can cause an increase in liver enzymes, leading to permanent liver damage. Because of this, people taking the drugs must have their liver function tested periodically. Statins are also known to cause muscles pain, joint aches and tenderness -- the most commonly reported complaints -- including the serious rhabdomyolysis (muscle wasting), in which body tissues begin to break down, resulting in kidney damage and failure. Nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches and skin rash are other known side effects.

natural ways to lower cholesterol

Leading a healthy lifestyle with plenty of whole foods and exercise is a proven way to lower your cholesterol and ward off heart disease.

Statin drugs are also known to block the production of important nutrients in the body, including CoQ10, which is beneficial to heart health and muscle function.

Other potential risks detailed by The Weston A. Price Foundation include an increased risk of polyneuropathy (nerve damage that causes pain in the hands and feet and trouble walking) and, ironically, heart failure due to CoQ10 depletion. Dizziness, cognitive impairment, a potential increased risk of cancer, decreased function of the immune system and depression are other serious risks.

Statins have also recently been linked to a potential increased risk of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Other cholesterol-lowering drugs also have side effects, most notably muscle pain and weakness.

How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Much of the controversy surrounding cholesterol-lowering drugs has to do with the fact that cholesterol can often be lowered -- and heart disease prevented -- by making lifestyle changes.

The keys to lowering cholesterol naturally include:

Even the Mayo Clinic maintains that making the above lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke better than taking medication alone.

Are Certain Statins Safer Than Others?

What should you do if you've made positive changes in your lifestyle, yet your cholesterol is still high?

One controversial option is to not worry about it. A small but growing group says that high cholesterol is not, in fact, the cause of heart disease. Proponents of this controversial view point out that cholesterol is a crucial part of the human body, necessary for proper neurological function, hormone production, and repair, along with helping to digest fats and acting as a powerful antioxidant.

If your cholesterol is low, they posit, you can have adrenal problems, blood sugar problems, mineral deficiencies, chronic inflammation, reproductive troubles, allergies, asthma and difficulty healing, among other issues.

Getting your cholesterol to adhere to the national recommended levels, they maintain, is not necessary to be healthy.

Alternatively, you could consider taking a statin, keeping in mind that you could be taking them for the rest of your life. While all of the varieties carry risks, Lipitor and Crestor may be among the most risky options because they are typically given at higher dosages.

Recommended Reading

10 Top Foods to Help You Fight High Cholesterol

High Cholesterol? The TOP 12 Non-Drug Strategies to Increase Your HDL Levels


DelawareOnline July 10, 2007 June 24, 2007

The Weston A. Price Foundation

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