Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Cholesterol – a waxy substance produced by the liver – can clog your arteries if you have too much of it in your blood. Poor dietary decisions can cause an excessive build-up in your body. Fortunately, there is a potent weapon against high cholesterol levels – statins. Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of harmful cholesterol in the blood.
Many people depend on statins to ward off the threat posed by high cholesterol levels, but their effects are not entirely benign.
That’s because certain dietary decisions can interact with the cholesterol-lowering drugs, causing a slew of serious side effects.
Two interactions are with healthy foods.
According to a research paper published in the journal Nutricion Hospitalaria, consumption of pectin or oat bran together with a specific type off statin “reduces absorption of the drug”.
Pectin is a unique fibre found in fruits and vegetables and oat bran is a rich source of soluble fibre made from the outer shell of the oat kernel.
According to the study paper, the statin that interacts with these dietary components is atorvastatin.
Other dietary interactions
Grapefruit juice can affect some statins and increase your risk of side effects.
“A doctor may advise you to avoid it completely or only consume small quantities,” notes the NHS.
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According to the health body, the doctor will also ask you how much alcohol you drink before prescribing statins.
“People who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol are at increased risk of getting more serious side effects.”
Side effects can vary between different statins, but common side effects include:
- Feeling sick
- Feeling unusually tired or physically weak
- Digestive system problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion or farting
- Muscle pain
- Sleep problems
- Low blood platelet count.
It’s important to note that many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.
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 1 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
High cholesterol levels can also be reduced by improving your diet. To help lower your cholesterol you don’t need to avoid fats altogether.
According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), “You should cut down on foods high in saturated fat”.
Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese.
Instead, you should replace them with food high in unsaturated fat such vegetable oils (olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil), nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish, advises the BDA.
To maximise the benefits of eating well, you also should engage in moderate physical activity.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol.”
HDL cholesterol picks up “bad” cholesterol and transports it to the liver where it is flushed out.
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