The food to avoid when taking statins

There's a lot of conflicting data out there when it comes to statins and grapefruit can interact with some versions of the medication. Source: Getty

Popping a statin with breakfast or dinner each day is a common way many people reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke and keep their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol at safer levels.

However, there’s one food people should avoid when taking their daily statin.

“Weirdly enough, it’s grapefruit juice that can interfere with the way the body deals with statins medicines,” Heart Foundation Clinical Manager Cia Connell tells Starts at 60. “Other citrus is fine, it’s just grapefruit has a funny little ingredient in it.”

While grapefruit is a go-to healthy snack for many people, it contains a chemical called furanocoumarins which prevents enzymes in the body called CYP3A from breaking down certain types of statins. This results in more medication entering the bloodstream and increases the risk of statin side effects such as muscle pain, liver damage and memory loss. These increased levels medication in the bloodstream can be toxic in some cases.

Grapefruit has little to no effect when it comes to Fluvastatin (Lescol) and rosuvastatin (Crestor), however it does have an adverse affect for those taking atorvastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin, sold under brand names Lipitor, Mevacor and Zocor.

If you’re particularly partial to grapefruit, talk to a health professional or pharmacist before giving it up for good. Statins should continue to be taken unless advised otherwise by a doctor.

“It’s great when people are informed and reading about their medicines but talk to your expert about how that applies to you,” Connell says.

Read more: Expert answers: The safety of statins and who should be using them

Choosing other healthier alternatives such as different citrus fruits, vegetables, whole grains, reduced fat dairies and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and olives can keep cholesterol levels down without the risk of interaction. It’s also important to know that statins don’t control cholesterol consumed through the foods we eat, so statins won’t automatically lower cholesterol for people eating processed or fatty foods.

“Statins only reduce the cholesterol that your body makes, it doesn’t impact the cholesterol that you get via your diet,” Connell adds. “Eating a lot of saturated and trans fats increases your blood cholesterol and it’s important to choose healthier fats to balance the good and bad cholesterol ratio.”

Statins can also interact with other specialised drugs such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antitransplant medications. According to Harvard Health, statins can affect how long another medication stays in the body by stimulating or inhibiting the production of specific enzymes in the liver or intestine. This could result in a medication not working as effectively or too much entering the blood stream.

“It’s important to discuss any queries about interactions with your doctor or pharmacist and that includes if an alternative is required and if so, which one,” Connell says.

Other cholesterol lowering medications may be available and a health professional will be able to discuss these with individuals as they may vary depending on unique health circumstances.

Read more: Should you take statins to lower cholesterol? Dr Ross Walker’s verdict

Did you know grapefruit could impact the effectiveness of statins? Do you use statins to lower your cholesterol?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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