The use of cholesterol lowering statins has been said to have prevented many people with high cholesterol, or heart and vascular disease, from suffering from heart attacks, strokes and perhaps death. Commonly recognized statins include Lipitor, Prevachol, and Crestor. These drugs have been found to be effective in lowering bad LDL cholesterol levels by 30 to 45%. For someone with very high cholesterol levels, combined with a previous heart attack, or heart disease, this can make a huge difference in increasing longevity. And yet, like all medications, statins do not come without some risks, and unpleasant side effects. Many people who have taken statin medications have stopped, as they have not felt that the benefits are worth the side effects.
If you have high cholesterol, before you begin to take a statin drug, you will want to know the pros and cons, as well as seeing if there are any lifestyle changes that you can make that will affect your cholesterol level positively. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, if you are overweight, or obese, changing your diet by eating less fatty food and red meat, and adding many more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods rich in omega fatty acids. Regular, moderate exercise, quitting smoking, and drinking only in moderation can also help lower cholesterol levels sufficiently. If you have high cholesterol and need to make changes in the aforementioned areas, you should do so before, or in combination with taking a statin.
For some people, all of the lifestyle changes in the world do not help lower their high cholesterol levels, or they may lead a healthy life, but still have high cholesterol. This sort of familial, genetic predisposition, to high cholesterol can respond well to statin medications. It is thought that I have familial high cholesterol, as does one of my sisters. She takes a statin, and I do not. It has not been recommended as lifestyle changes helped in my case.
How do I know that it is familial? Well, my cholesterol was high when I weighed 115 pounds, walked every day, and rarely at meat, or fatty foods. Eight years later, it was just as high and though I had just lost 40 pounds, I had 30 to 40 to go, and my lifestyle was pretty sedentary. I have changed my diet, though it was not really bad to begin, I have lost the weight, and I exercise regularly. This has helped me a lot, and it is good advice for anyone. My sister who takes the statin is obese, does not exercise, and her diet is not so good. I really wish that she would commit to some lifestyle changes. Once you begin to take a statin, you are usually on it for the rest of your life.
What are the side effects of statins, you ask. To begin, the most common side effect is muscle pain and weakness. Some people experience this right off, while others do not begin to have problems until they have been taking the drug for a year or more. This sort of muscle pain is not relieved by OTC pain relievers, such as Tylenol, or Advil, and it can be quite a nuisance. This muscle weakness is thought to be a result of a lack of the CoQ10 enzyme which is also lowered dramatically by statins. CoQ10 is an important enzyme that play a large role in the cell structure of muscles and nerves, as well as collagen and elastin. As the rate of heart attacks has declined with the use of statin drugs, there has been an increase in congestive heart failure, and some speculate this is due to CoQ10 depletion from statins medications. Remember, you heart is a muscle.
The next most common side effect is liver damage. Since everything goes through the liver to be metabolized, toxic levels of drugs can cause the liver to function improperly. In the case of statins, increased liver enzyme production is seen. Because of the chance of liver damage, a person taking a statin medication will need blood tests to check liver enzyme levels every six weeks, or so.
Digestive issues are also among the side effects from statin medications, Nausea, diarrhea, and constipation have all been noted, though it is said to be rare. Rashes may also occur with statin use, as well as skin flushing. Neurological changes have also been seen, such as numbness and tingling of the extremities, memory impairment, and an increase chance of developing ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Neurological changes are often irreversible.
Side effects from statins are more commonly seen in women, people with small frames, people with liver or kidney disease, and in people with either type 1, or type 2 diabetes. It is felt that there may be a genetic link when it comes to determining who is more likely to experience side effects from statins. If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes, and do all that you can to make the needed changes to see if you can lower your cholesterol without a statin. If your doctor highly recommends a statin because of a previous heart attack, or other risk factors, then educate yourself about the side effects of statins, and if you experience anything alarming, consult your doctor before making any changes in your medication.
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