Since they were introduced 25 years ago, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs have become the most-prescribed drugs in the world for one major reason — they work! In fact, they work so well that you can take statins, gorge yourself on hot dogs and hamburgers, and you’ll still see your LDL (bad) cholesterol level plummet.
For many years, the benefits of these powerful drugs seemed to outweigh the drawbacks. Statins can be lifesavers for people who inherit elevated cholesterol levels (a condition known as hyperlipidemia) from their parents. I also prescribe them for patients who have suffered heart attacks, and for patients with heart disease who need their cholesterol levels lowered quickly.
But I am less likely to prescribe them these days simply to lower cholesterol in people who are not at high risk. For one thing, there is increasing research emerging about the downside of statins.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration now mandates that these drugs carry warning labels for increased risk of diabetes, muscle disorders, cloudy thinking, and memory loss.
The very best way to lower cholesterol — and keep it low — is by making lifestyle changes. Though doctors often tell patients they must change their lifestyle or go on a statin, too often this is just lip service. When the patient returns a few months later, having made little or no progress, the doctor willingly writes a prescription.
But that’s not how it works in my practice because I’ve witnessed the dramatic results that these lifestyle changes can make:
• Eating a plant-based, whole (not processed) foods diet
• Exercising every day
• Reducing your stress