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 (Although one statin, cerivastatin – named Baycol – was withdrawn in 2001 after some people suffered a severe, even fatal, muscle reaction.)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