The Statins Solution?
This past week I learned as many as 40% of adults in a broad age range in this country might profit from being on statin drugs to reduce their risks of heart attacks and stroke. Currently only about one in four who could benefit are taking such meds. The recommendation is not without controversy, but was surprising enough that I looked into the situation a bit more. First I went to a web site where one can readily (though maybe not accurately) calculate if one needs to be on statins to lower his or her chances of getting stroke or heart attack in the coming ten year period. It indicated I am definitely in the need to take statins population, a revelation given that I am at the lowest weight I have had since college, do not smoke, have low to moderate blood pressure, lack any known serious diseases, and had a relatively good result from blood testing a few months ago. In thinking about my risks I forgot one basic factor against me, my age.
Anyway, since this dubious beginning, have done a little more research and here is what I have discovered:
- Statins are drugs of various types that reduce the level of fat, such as triglycerides and cholesterol, in the blood.
- In years past, they were mainly recommended for people still having high blood fat levels despite efforts to reduce them via dietary changes and more exercise.
- More recently, they are being suggested by many in the medical community based on broad categories of risk, as opposed to simply certain blood fat levels. Thus, whereas before a person with total cholesterol significantly over 200 (though they had tried to correct this with diet and exercise) might have been put on statin medications, now even those with lower cholesterol but whose overall risk level is higher than average are also being considered and often recommended for blood fat lowering medications.
- Examples of causes for statin prescriptions under the newer guidelines include a smoking habit, a history of heart disease, having diabetes, or having a risk above 7.5% of dying from heart disease or stroke in the next decade (the category that includes me).
- Lately released new study findings show that people on statins who fell into these risk categories even when they had low cholesterol had significantly lower incidence of heart attacks or strokes than patients who were not taking statins.
- It was also determined that on average the monetary and side-effect costs of being on statins were lower than the quality and length of life benefits from being on them, for those in the indicated risk categories, which evidently includes around 40% of us aged 40-75 in this country.
- Nonetheless, for any particular individual, either financial or side-effect considerations could outweigh the advantages of being a regular consumer of statins.
So, this may for most of us be a topic for discussion with our physicians and warrant further investigation to help us choose whether or not taking statins seems the right choice.
Illustration of statin binding to reduce blood cholesterol (Wikipedia)
It was stressed in the literature I have read that statins ought not be a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. Nonetheless, if one does what is recommended in that respect and still has a higher risk of stroke or heart attack, some type of daily statins pill might be appropriate.
For myself, I used to have high cholesterol before getting onto a frequent program of exercise and before losing some weight. In the interim, before the weight loss, I took an over the counter daily supplement, Red Yeast Rice, coupled with an enzyme supplement, CoQ10, and by the next annual physical was told by my internal medicine doctor the cholesterol level was now in the healthy range with no noticeable ill effects and to keep doing what I was doing to keep it there. I have no idea if this approach will work well for others, but for those concerned about higher than optimum blood fat levels it may be one option.
What, though, are some common side-effects that may be of concern when taking statins? They include: mild to moderate muscle pain or weakness, liver damage, memory loss, mood disorders, kidney failure, tiring easily, digestive problems, increased risk or aggravation of diabetes, weight gain (often due to a false sense of assurance one can eat as desired without ill effects plus due to muscle loss and weakness, leading to less enthusiasm for regular exercise), etc. Thus, one's decision about whether or not to use statins to reduce certain risks cannot be made lightly, in view of at least a small potential for such additional problems that could result from their use.
In my case, I think I shall tentatively consider resuming taking Red Yeast Rice with CoQ10, yet will also discuss it with my doctor and see if there may be further, more natural means of reducing my overall heart disease and stroke risks.
Hopefully, leading a healthy sort of lifestyle will in and of itself prove of sufficient benefit so that nothing more needs now to be done. Good luck to each of you in your own choices about your good health!
When to Start Taking a Cholesterol Pill? The Decision Is Yours. Harlan Krumholz in NPR; 7/15/15.