[custom_frame_center shadow=”on”]statins vs heart healthy lifestyle[/custom_frame_center] Statins are among the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs. In the USA, it is consistently in the top 5 to 10 drugs prescribed. That is because raised blood cholesterol is one of the main contributors to heart disease in humans. And among the most common drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol, is statins. But what are statins, how do they work and what are their side-effects? There’s conflict in the medical fraternity about the real effect of statins and how they stack up against the undeniable benefits of a healthy lifestyle. We try to keep up and pass on 10 tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle…

What are statins?

Statins are drugs that were introduced in the late 1980s to help lower cholesterol levels in humans and reduce their risk of heart disease. Subsequently, statins were also found to dramatically lower the risk of stroke and to protect diabetes sufferers against cardiovascular disease. Statins were even found to be linked with reduced symptoms of multiple sclerosis and, possibly, the ‘suicide’ of some cancer cells. Statins gained superdrug status.

How do statins work?

Statins work by blocking the action of a certain enzyme in the liver that makes ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and slightly raises levels of ‘good’ cholesterol HDL. According to research, most people who take a statin have no or a few minor side-effects. (Although one statin, cerivastatin – named Baycol – was withdrawn in 2001 after some people suffered a severe, even fatal, muscle reaction.) Symptoms to watch out for include headache, pins and needles, muscle and joint aches, upset stomach, diarrhoea and a rash. If you experience any of these, visit your doctor. NOTE: Because statins work via the liver, they should be used with caution by people who drink heavily or have a history of liver disease.

If statins are so good, what’s the fuss?

Well, further research on statins discovered that the drugs were also linked with an increased risk of developing diabetes. So a study was carried out at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, USA, involving a team of scientists headed by professor of medicine Paul Ridker and a large group of subjects – 17,600 in all. The team discovered that participants who were at risk of developing diabetes because they already had at least one risk factor (such as being overweight or having high blood pressure) were 28 percent more likely to become diabetic while on statins than participants with no other risk factors. The study was published online in The Lancet1.

Meanwhile, the osteopathic physician and alternative medicine practitioner Dr Joseph Mercola reported that many other side-effects of statins had not been publicised, such as loss of memory, acidosis, suppression of the immune system, anaemia, cataracts, a range of muscle problems, liver dysfunction, sexual dysfunction and even an increased risk of cancer. According to Dr Mercola, statins can even damage your heart. ‘A study

[published] in the journal Atherosclerosis2, showed that statin use is associated with a 52 percent increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque compared to non-users,’ he explained. ‘Coronary artery calcification is the hallmark of potentially lethal heart disease!’

One of the most commonly reported side-effects of statins is memory loss. However, says Professor Lionel Opie of the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Cape Town, ‘at least some degree of memory loss is inevitable in the age group of many persons taking statins’.3 Basically, as cardiovascular problems are generally experienced by older people, the chances of their having some form of memory loss is not unexpected.

Where does this leave the patient? Are drugs the only solution? According to Professor Opie and other specialists in the field of cardiovascular disease, people at risk of cardiovascular disease can play an important role in reducing their levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), increasing their ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and lowering triglycerides (elements that may become the raw material for LDLs). The answer starts with a healthy lifestyle.

10 lifestyle tips for a healthy heart

So, if you are at risk of heart disease, following these 10 tips will set you on the right path to a healthier heart:

  1. Cut out trans fats.
    The number one culprit, trans fats, or processed fats, are worse for your heart than saturated fats. Snack on fruits, vegetables or a handful of nuts instead of crisps, commercial biscuits, cakes and pastries. A homemade avo sandwich on good bread is a far better and more satisfying option for lunch than a trans fat-laden pie.
  2. Remember oats?
    Porridge oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that scours excess cholesterol from your body. You can reduce your LDLs by up to 24 percent by eating a bowl of porridge regularly. Other good grains for high-cholesterol sufferers are whole grains such as brown rice, burghul, barley and quinoa.
  3. Keep the fruit bowl filled.
    Pears, grapefruit, apples and all berries contain pectin, another soluble fibre that helps reduce LDLs. All fruit – fresh, frozen or even canned in its own juice with no added sugar – contains fibre, vitamins and anti-oxidants, which also help reduce triglycerides.
  4. Eat nuts.
    Walnuts, pecans and almonds help balance cholesterol levels.
  5. Go for the ‘good’ fats
    Your body needs fats to operate properly and maintain HDL levels. Choose good fats, found in monounsaturated oils (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, peanut oil) and omega-3 fatty acids (in fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, and walnuts).
  6. Alcohol and other drinks.
    One glass of wine may increase your HDL levels, although that may be a glass too many if your triglycerides are high. Fizzy drinks are a no-no too. Great alternatives are water flavoured with lemon and/or mint and herbal teas.
  7. Keep a healthy weight.
    Losing excess kilograms could raise your HDLs and reduce damaging LDLs.
  8. Giving up smoking
    It will raise your HDL’s.
  9. Walk briskly for 30 minutes a day[custom_frame_right shadow=”on”]statins - running for heart healthy lifestyle[/custom_frame_right] Raise your HDL’s with a brisk 30-minute walk more than three times a week. Carrying light weights will help build muscle and may reduce your LDL levels. According to cholesterol expert Jennifer Moll, ‘Exercise can lower total cholesterol by an average of 10 percent in conjunction with a healthy diet.’
  10. Supplements
    Omega-3 fatty acids stabilise the build-up of plaque in the arteries, cutting your risk of heart attack.
The B vitamin niacin can raise HDL levels.
Coenzyme Q10 boosts enzyme action in your body. It helps your heart to pump more strongly, shields cells from free radical damage and may help lower blood pressure too. It’s especially valuable for people on medication for high cholesterol medication as the drugs can block the production of coenzyme Q10 by the liver.
    Phytosterols hinder the absorption of cholesterol from your food. You’ll find phytosterols naturally in soya beans, rice bran and wheatgerm, or in a supplement that can help lower your bad LDLs.


So, if you are at risk of heart disease, following these 10 tips may set you on the right path to a healthier heart, possibly even without using statins.[divider_top]

Acknowledgements & Photo credits


  1. Ridker, P, Pradhan, A, et al. Cardiovascular benefits and diabetes risks of statin therapy in primary prevention. The Lancet, August 2012. Vol. 380, Issue 9841, 565–571
  2. Nakazato, R, Gransar, H, et al. Statins use and coronary artery plaque composition: results from the International Multicenter. Atherosclerosis, Nov. 2012; 225(1): 148–153
  3. Opie, L.H., Dalby, A. J. Cardiovascular prevention: Lifestyle and statins – competitors or companions? South African Medical Journal. 2014;104(3):168–173. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7942


  1. Photo of doctor drawing a heart courtesy of Nayping / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  2. Photo of man running courtesy of Sura Nulapradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net