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Dr Russ Blog - Statins - Yes or No?
Statins - Yes or No?
Created on 8/5/2011

J sent in a question that I'm asked frequently in the clinic - "What do you think about statin drugs?"

Statin drugs are used to help lower cholesterol levels. They are very effective, and have been shown to help protect against the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. They may provide other health benefits, too, including possible anti-cancer activity.

The challenge to statin drugs is related, in my mind, to 2 issues:

1) They are overused - it sometimes seems like experts are saying we should put statins in the water we drink! Yes, statins can be very helpful in the right circumstances, but a person with mild-to-moderate high cholesterol may be able to lower their levels through diet and lifestyle measures - a healthy Mediterranean- or Asian-styled diet combined with regular exercise often does the trick.

Some people prefer to take the statin and then continue eating as poorly as they always have. I simply don't agree with that approach.

and 2) It's well known that statin drugs may cause side effects, most notably liver dysfunction and muscle aches / pains.

If you doctor places you on a statin drug you will likely have blood tests performed on a regular basis to watch for any signs of liver problems. it doesn't happen too often but it's important to watch out for it.

As regards muscle aches and pains there are a couple of things you can do to help lessen the chance of this side effect:

a. Take a vitamin D supplement - provided there's no health reason why you should avoid using vitamin D, taking supplemental vitamin D can help prevent the muscle discomfort sometimes experienced by people on statins.

b. Take Coenzyme Q10, also known simply as CoQ10 - this vitamin-like compound can get depleted with statin therapy, and CoQ10 may be important for heart and brain function. Most people on statins should take 60-100 mg of CoQ10, too.

In addition, some experts feel that CoQ10 can help lessen the chance of muscle aches developing with statin therapy.

Some people simply can't tolerate statins due to the side effects. This doesn't happen too often, but it does happen.

Interestingly enough, a natural agent called Red Yeast Rice (which contains a mixture of statin-like compounds) appears to effectively lower cholesterol levels and with less risk for the side effects seen with the pharmaceutical statins. In fact, Red Yeast Rice has been recommended for people who are intolerant of prescription statin therapy.

Keep in mind, however, that:

1) The same side effects seen with statin drug therapy can develop with Red Yeast Rice

2) Both vitamin D and CoQ10 may also be recommended if taking Red Yeast Rice, and

3) While prescription statin drugs typically need only be taken once a day, Red Yeast Rice products need to be taken twice a day.

In addition, prescription statin drugs are produced under pharmaceutical grade conditions. The same cannot be said for most Red Yeast Rice products - meaning you need to do some research to identify safe, high quality products. 

Statins are not evil by any means - they are often very helpful and can protect against serious illness. I do prescribe them in appropriate clinical situations if diet and lifestyle measures alone have not been sufficient to lower cholesterol.

I hope this helps, J. Be well.
Dr. Russ
** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. ** 

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