Statins are regularly prescribed to many over-60s, yet there is much debate over how effective the drugs are. Some hail the pills as “miracle drugs”, while others claim they’re ineffective.
In simple terms, statins are a form of medication that are prescribed by doctors to lower cholesterol. It’s not uncommon for a health professional to prescribe statins to people living with or most at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The purpose of statins is simply to prevent the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems that can occur as a result of cardiovascular disease and when low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol is too high.
The drugs are typically prescribed to people who have experienced heart attacks, those diagnosed with coronary heart disease, as well as people who are at greater risk of suffering a major cardiovascular event such as a stroke. According to Better Health, there are a variety of different factors that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease including family history of high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke, obesity, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, poor general health and older age.
In most cases, statins come in tablet form and are taken once a day. Because the risk of cholesterol can return, it’s common for doctors to prescribe the drug for life. There is a risk that statins interfere with other medications or health conditions, so it’s always important to discuss this with your GP before taking statins.
For example, statin is known to react with a range of antibiotics and antifungal medications, some HIV drugs, medications used to prevent blood clots and medications to treat psoriasis, endometriosis, and arthritis, just to name a few. Again, talking to your doctor will ensure you’re not taking anything that will conflict with other medication.
Like any form of medication, there are side effects and risks associated with taking statins. According to the NHS, most people who take statins don’t experience any side effects at all. Some people are known to experience non-life-threatening conditions including headaches, stomach aches or just generally feeling unwell.
In more serious cases, people have been known to suffer kidney failure and liver problems, although the NHS reports this number is as low as one in 10,000 people. A doctor will explain all the side effects before prescribing statins to you. That said, there are some factors that can increase the risk of side effects.
This can include being over the age of 70, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, a history of liver disease, or a family history of muscle conditions including rhabdomyolysis or myopathy.
While there is science to back up that statins can lower cholesterol, there are alternative and natural ways people can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease. This can include eating a healthy and balance diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, restricting alcohol intake and giving up cigarette smoking if you haven’t already. When this fails, statins can be prescribed.
Earlier this year, the University of Iowa in the United States released research in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found statins can save lives, particularly when used by people experiencing higher levels of LDL cholesterol.
Study co-author Jennifer Robinson said doctors should treat patients with LDL more aggressively with stains and that patients should feel safe using them. Researchers analysed 34 previous studies of 270,000 patients and found statins were effective in reducing the risk of death when LDL cholesterol levels were 100mg/dl or greater.
“Statins are the safest drugs we have to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death in a wide range of patients,” Robinson said in a statement. “Patients with higher LDL cholesterol levels are likely to experience even greater health benefits from taking statins and some of the newer cholesterol drugs.”
On the other end of the scale, there have also been studies to link the use of statins with other health problems including diabetes, but can depend on the individual taking the statins. It’s always best to discuss the use of statins with your GP or health professional.