A report in the March 19, 2014, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine highlights new guidelines recommended by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association on the use of statins, which may result in 13 million more people using statins. Previously, the guidelines were to prescribe statins to lower cholesterol levels in people who had LDL cholesterol levels of 190 mg or above. Now, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are recommending statins as a preventative measure in people who have diabetes or a greater than 7.5 percent 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease, and have LDL cholesterol levels of 70 mg or above. Following these new guidelines, more than half of people over the age of 40 years old could be recommended to take statins.
Is using statins as a preventative measure a good thing? It is important to understand the risks, benefits and alternatives before making a decision to use statins.
What Are Statins?
Statins are a class of drugs that are used to lower bad cholesterol levels. Common brand-name statins include, Zocor, Lipitor, Livalo, Lescol, Altoprev, Mevacor, Pravachol and Crestor. Statins work by inhibiting the body’s production of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which is used by the liver to produce cholesterol. Statins may also help reduce cholesterol buildup in the arteries and prevent further accumulation, which may reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Side Effects of Statins
Taking statins does not come without risk. Some of the more common side effects of statins include muscle and joint aches, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. The FDA also lists some much less common but much more serious risks associated with statins. These serious risks include: liver damage, increased blood sugar levels, increased risk of diabetes type 2, muscle weakness, muscle pain and an increased risk of muscle injury. In addition, some people who take statins experience memory loss and confusion, although these symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks of discontinuing use of the drug.
Statins and CoQ10
Researchers from Centro InvecchiamentoCellulare noted in a 2003 issue of Biofactors that statins reduce the body’s levels of the antioxidant, ubiquinone (CoQ10). Reduced levels of ubiquinone (CoQ10) can lead to an increased risk of statin-related side effects. The Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiology at Stony Brook University performed a study, reported in the American Journal of Cardiology, that found taking CoQ10 supplements along with statins reduced muscle pain associated with the use of statins, therefore increasing daily activity levels by 38 percent. It is important to note, however, that the recommendation to take ubiquinone (CoQ10) or Ubiquinol supplements along with statins is not universal at this time as more research needs to be conducted.
How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
If you feel like the risks of taking statins outweigh the benefits, you can try natural methods to reduce your cholesterol levels. Some natural methods for lower LDL cholesterol levels include:
- Lose weight if you are overweight:Losing as little as five percent of your body weight can reduce your cholesterol levels.
- Reduce your meat intake:Meat contains the bad kind of fat. Reducing your meat intake can help lower your cholesterol levels. When you do eat meat, choose lean cuts and remove the fat.
- Eliminate trans-fats:Foods that contain trans-fats can increase your bad cholesterol levels and reduce your good cholesterol levels, and they rarely have any nutritional value. To reduce your trans-fat intake, stay away from foods that contain hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil (both are trans-fats), which includes most packaged chips, baked goods and fried foods.
- Eat good fats:Good fats are actually heart healthy. Salmon, walnuts, almonds and flaxseed are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are hearty healthy fats.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains:High fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains can actually reduce your bad cholesterol levels.
- Exercise: Regular, moderate levels of exercise (about 30 minutes a day, most days of the week) can lower your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol levels. Try walking, swimming or riding a bike.
- Take supplements:Fish oil, artichoke leaf, red yeast rice, niacin and ubiquinone supplements may reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. Ask your doctor before taking these supplements if you are currently taking any medications.
- Drink tea and eat dark chocolate:Black tea, green tea and dark chocolate are rich in antioxidants and may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
Healthy lifestyle changes may be all that you need to keep your cholesterol at healthy levels. If you do decide to take statins, however, talk to your doctor about the benefits of using ubiquinone (CoQ10) supplements to minimize the risk of side effects.
About the Author
Jaclyn Werner is passionate about living a healthy life. As a home health care aide assisting the elderly in hospices and in their homes, Werner has seen firsthand the positive effects that a healthy diet and exercise can have on the body—and what happens when nutrition is ignored. She has since become a staunch advocate of educating the public about ways to improve overall health and well-being. Werner, who takes advantage of Colorado’s landscape regularly for hiking and mountain biking, resides in Denver with her husband and daughter. Currently, she is a technical writer for Ubiquinol.
- The New England Journal of Medicine; Application of New Cholesterol Guidelines to a Population-Based Sample; March 19, 2014
- Mayo Clinic: Statins – Are the Cholesterol Lowering Drugs Right for You?
- FDA: FDA Expands Advice on Statin Risks
- Biofactors 18(1-4):113-24; Statins Lower Plasma and Lymphocyte Ubiquinol/Ubiquinone Without Affecting Other Antioxidants and PUFA; Centro InvecchiamentoCellulare, I.D.I. (IRCCS), Roma, Italy; 2003
- American Journal of Cardiology 5;99(10):1409-12; Effect of Coenzyme Q10 on Myopathic Symptoms in Patients Treated With Statins; Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, USA; May 2007
- Mayo Clinic: Can Coenzyme Q10 Reduce the Risk of Side Effects From Statins?
- Mayo Clinic: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- NYU Langone Medical Center: High Cholesterol – Principal Proposed Natural Treatments