Statins are cholesterol lowering medicines. They may be used to treat:

  • primary hypercholesterolaemia, a high level of cholesterol in the blood due to lifestyle factors such as a high-fat diet or not doing enough exercise
  • familial hypercholesterolaemia, a high level of cholesterol in the blood due to inheriting a gene that causes your liver to make lots of cholesterol

Statins may also be used to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke if you have:

  • angina (chest pain) or have previously had a heart attack
  • transient ischaemic attacks ('mini strokes') or have previously had a stroke
  • peripheral vascular disease (narrowing of blood vessels, usually in the legs)
  • diabetes and are over 40
  • diabetes and are under 40 but have other risk factors for heart disease, such as poor blood sugar control, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease in a relative younger than 40.

Statins reduce the production of cholesterol by the liver.

In particular, they reduce the production of 'bad' cholesterol called low density lipoprotein (LDL).

If you have a high amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood, it can form fatty deposits in the lining of your arteries (blood vessels). This causes furring and narrowing of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which in turn restricts the blood flow and can increase your risk of having heart disease or a stroke.

The liver makes most of your body's cholesterol at night. For this reason, it is recommended that many statins (fluvastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin and simvastatin with ezetimibe) are taken in the evening so the amount of statin in your body will be highest when the liver is producing the most cholesterol.

There are several different statins on the market. Names include:

  • atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor)
  • fluvastatin (brand name Lescol)
  • pravastatin (brand name Lipostat)
  • rosuvastatin (brand name Crestor)
  • simvastatin (brand name Zocor)
  • simvastatin combined with ezetimibe (brand name Inegy).

In May 2010 BBC news in the UK ran a program whose byline was:

“GPs should think more carefully about prescribing cholesterol-busting drugs because, some statin drugs raised the risk of adverse effects such as liver and kidney problems.”

The research used medical records on over 2 million patients to assess side effects of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Clinical trials to approve a drug tend to look at side effects in a selected population over a relatively short time. This study monitored patients in general practice over a longer period of time, which allows rarer side effects to be revealed.

The study confirmed some side effects that are already known, such as an increased risk of muscle weakness, cataracts, acute kidney failure, and moderate or severe liver dysfunction. However, these problems were still estimated to be quite rare, with cataracts affecting less than 3% of statin users and other side effects less than 1%. A greater number of patients benefited from taking statins to lower cholesterol, which in turn prevented heart attacks. This study provides invaluable numerical data for clinicians that will help them weigh up the risks and benefits of these drugs for each patient.

The study was carried out by researchers from Nottingham University, who received no external funding. The study was published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.

The research was covered appropriately by national newspapers, which all included a pertinent quote from the British Heart Foundation: "A small number experience side-effects but the benefits far outweigh the risks." However, some stories do not make it explicit that the overall risk of side effects remains quite small among statin users.

This was a large and well-conducted study that has shown that there is an increased risk of myopathy (muscle weakness), cataracts, kidney failure, and moderate or severe liver dysfunction associated with statin use. However, very few in the study population (non-users and users of statins) developed the conditions, suggesting that it is important for people considering these drugs to have an understanding of their individual chances of any side effect when compared to the potential benefit. The study did show that fluvastatin gave the highest risks for liver dysfunction and this may affect the choice of which statin to prescribe.

These estimates constitute invaluable numerical data for clinicians, helping them consider the likelihood of specific risks and benefits on a patient-by-patient basis. Members of the public should not alter their use of medication without appropriate medical guidance from a doctor or pharmacist, who can discuss any concerns they may have about statins.

The sweet alternative to Statins

Clinical trials show that one natural substance offers even better results than prescription drugs at lowering overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and protecting against blood clotting. This amazing substance, a fraction of sugar cane called policosanol, offers all of these benefits with virtually no side effects, at less than half the cost of prescription statin drugs. And it may actually eliminate your need for cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs. By now you know that refined sugar is on the "no-no" list. In fact, refined sugar can actually cause a huge list of health problems, including premature tissue stiffening. There is no doubt that eliminating refined sugar is a crucial step in living a healthy lifestyle.

Policosanol is technically not a sugar at all. It's a group of eight to nine "long chain alcohols" (solid, waxy compounds). It actually contains no sugar and has no extra calories so it doesn't have an adverse effect on blood sugar levels. Research is accumulating to show that policosanol is more effective than the most popular patent medicines for lowering total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. As added bonuses, policosanol helps to prevent strokes by inhibiting platelet aggregation and abnormal blood clotting and may lower blood pressure. And unlike the popular patent medications, policosanol has virtually no side effects, and does not seriously interfere with our bodies ability to produce co-enzyme Q10 as the patent statin medications do. Unlike many other supplements whose claims are supported solely by traditional wisdom or laboratory tests, policosanol has demonstrated its abilities in human trials -- trials that compared its performance head to head with top-selling statin drugs.

Published studies have come to conflicting conclusions regarding the efficacy of policosanol in lowering LDL (i.e., "bad cholesterol") or raising HDL (i.e., "good cholesterol"). Despite a number of studies funded by the Cuban government, which produces and markets the drug, no independent clinical trials todate have found any evidence of the efficacy of policosanol.

Medical research is frequently criticized for not paying enough attention to metabolic differences between men and women and for focusing much more on men. One research team, however, concentrated exclusively on the female response to policosanol. This randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind study consisted of 244 post-menopausal women. All followed a cholesterol lowering diet for six weeks, and then divided into two groups. One group was given a placebo for 24 weeks. The other group was given 5 milligrams of policosanol daily for 12 weeks, followed by 10 milligrams daily for the next 12 weeks. The results were dramatic: Policosanol lowered LDL cholesterol by 25% and raised HDL cholesterol 29%. Total cholesterol levels fell nearly 17% in the policosanol group. In the placebo group, LDL, triglyceride, and total cholesterol levels actually went up.

Coenzyme Q10

There is extensive documentation lately about coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a superior antioxidant thats essential for the production of energy in every cell of the body. Through years of research CoQ10 has been shown to be effective in protecting the cardiovascular system and helping to prevent heart disease. Ironically, statin drugs have been shown to deplete essential CoQ10 levels, which is why some doctors recommend CoQ10 supplements when they prescribe a statin drug.

Last year, US researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) conducted a study to examine the effects of atorvastatin (better known by its brand name; Lipitor) and supplements of CoQ10 on several heart disease markers.

As reported in the American Journal of Cardiology, the UI team tested 14 subjects with no history of heart problems. After taking atorvastatin for three to six months, 10 subjects showed deterioration in at least one marker for heart function, and five subjects had deterioration in three different heart function markers.

Statin therapy is supposed to IMPROVE cardiovascular health.

After tests revealed the potential problems, nine subjects received 300 mg of CoQ10 daily for three months. During this period they continued to take atorvastatin. At the end of this second phase of the study, eight of the subjects showed improved levels of heart function markers, and the five that had previously shown worsening in three different markers improved in all three markers.

This is a small study, but even so, the conclusion - that CoQ10 reduced the potential risk of heart failure that was apparently prompted by atorvastatin use - should serve as an eye-opener for anyone who is sold on the life saving value of statins.

Clearly much more research needs to be done with regards to Statins and their side effects. However, we DO NOT recommend that you stop or reduce your intake of Statins if you are proscribed them. Speak with your doctor or health care professional if you are concerned about Statins or if you are suffering side effects from them and talk about the healthy alternatives that might be available to you.

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