Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins are a type of medication that reduces LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. LDL cholesterol is branded the “bad” cholesterol because it can clog up your arteries, a process that can increase your risk of heart disease and having a heart attack. statins reduce the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver.
The benefits of taking statins are generally considered to outweigh the disadvantages.
However, statin use can increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis – a rare condition that causes muscle cells to break down.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dark or cola-coloured urine is a telltale sign of rhabdomyolysis.
Other signs include:
- Severe muscle aching throughout the entire body
- Muscle weakness.
“If you have signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, stop taking your statin medication immediately and seek medical treatment right away,” advises Mayo Clinic.
Am I at risk?
According to the NHS, statins should be taken with caution if you’re at an increased risk of developing myopathy – damaged tissue muscles that can lead to rhabdomyolysis.
Things that can increase this risk include:
- Being over 70 years old
- Having a history of liver disease
- Regularly drinking large quantities of alcohol
- Having a history of muscle-related side effects when taking a statin or fibrate (another type of medicine for high cholesterol)
Having a family history of myopathy or rhabdomyolysis.
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“If one or more of these apply to you, you may need to be frequently monitored to check for complications,” advises the NHS.
It adds: “A lower dose of statin may also be recommended.”
It is important to note that most people tolerate statins well and do not have any problems.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Natural ways to lower high cholesterol
There are alternative ways to lower high cholesterol levels, namely by overhauling unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle.
According to cholesterol charity Heart UK, cutting down on saturated fat and replacing some of it with unsaturated fats is a great way to lower your cholesterol.
Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.
Unsaturated fats include:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed, nut and seed oils
- Avocado, nuts and seeds
- Fat spreads made from vegetable oils, such as sunflower and olive oil
- Oily fish.
“Oily fish are a good source of healthy unsaturated fats, specifically a type called omega-3 fats,” says Heart UK.
According to the charity, you should aim to eat two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily.
“A portion is 140g, but you could have two or three smaller portions throughout the week.”
Tinned, frozen or fresh all count e.g. salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring and mackerel.
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