Statin drugs are among the most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals in this country and include: Lipitor (atorvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin) and Lescol (fluvastatin).

According to medical studies, pharmaceutical studies, medical literature and manufacturer's promotional materials, Statin drugs lower cholesterol, thereby decreasing plaque buildup in the arteries and decreasing heart attacks. Recently, a number of studies actually question the validity of some of these claims.

Statin drugs work by inhibiting the action of an enzyme in the liver (HMGCo-A reductase), which reduces the ability of the liver to make cholesterol, thus decreasing the cholesterol in the blood. Some researchers suggest this also leads to a decrease in the size of plaques in the arteries as well as a decrease in inflammation in the arteries, which leads to the plaque deposits. However, only small scale studies have been done to look at these effects and the results are ambiguous. Many studies, do however show, that people with normal cholesterol levels can have heart disease and plaque in the arteries, and people with high cholesterol can have little plaque in the arteries. So, what is the contributing factor? Is it cholesterol? Most recent research indicates that inflammation is the biggest factor in heart attack, heart disease and plaque formation. Many physicians are now looking at a protein known to indicate generalized inflammation, known as C-reactive protein, or CRP.

This leads to the question: Do I really need a statin drug and what are the benefits of taking one? The benefits include a lowering of "bad" cholesterol, lowering of blood triglyerides and, sometimes, a slight elevation of "good" cholesterol. Is this important? It depends on your body, lifestyle and medical conditions. It is important to look at more than just one indicator of health. Additional factors, such as inflammation, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. also play an important role in heart health.

What are the downsides to taking a statin? Statin drugs change how the liver functions by inhibiting the action of a key enzyme in the liver, and, recent studies indicate, also in the brain. Depending on which studies are reviewed, side effects from this inhibition can affect anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent of those taking a statin drug. And, unlike many medications, the side effects may not show up immediately. Some people easily take the drug for two or three years before side effects show up; others experience side effects almost immediately. Some of the side effects include:

Disturbed sleep
Abnormal liver enzyme function
Muscle pain and weakness
Peripheral neuropathy--numbness, tingling and pain in extremities and feet
Cognitive changes, such as memory changes, inability to concentrate and difficulty remembering words
Decreased production of Co-enzyme Q 10, an antioxidant necessary for heart muscle health
Decreased production of Squalene, an antioxidant necessary for breast health and cancer inhibition

There are some things you can do to support your health before you decide to take a statin drug.

1. Break a sweat. Aerobic exercise promotes heart muscle strengthening and efficiency, increases the production of "good" cholesterol and decreases the inflammatory response, lowering the CRP levels.
2. Lose belly fat: Belly fat is correlated with high CRP levels. Belly fat is the easiest fat to lose through exercise and healthy diet.
3. Quit smoking: Smoking any type of tobacco substance increases the inflammatory response.
4. Take a Niacin supplement: Niacin has a beneficial action of relaxing arterial walls, promoting efficient muscle contraction of the heart and decreasing inflammation while supporting liver function, raising "good" cholesterol levels (up to 35%) and lowering "bad". Some practitioners support taking regular Niacin, which can have a profoundly uncomfortable flushing effect, while others find taking a non-flushing Niacin to be just as effective. The recommendation is 500 mg twice a day.
5. Take Omega 3 Fish Oil: A powerful antioxidant that decreases inflammation, it is also effective at lowering blood triglycerides. The American Heart Association suggests a minimum dose of 1000 mg twice each day and a maximum dose of 2000 mg twice each day.
6. Red Yeast Rice (Monascus purpureus): Often sold as a natural cholesterol lowering supplement, is a yeast grown on rice and used as a dietary staple in many Asian countries. It is an HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor and is the precursor for the statin drug, lovastatin (Mevacor). It should be taken with caution, as it can produce similar side effects to the prescription statin drugs.
7. Plant Sterols: some studies indicate taking at least 6oo mg twice a day can lower the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine as plant sterols compete at the receptor sites.

If you are already taking a statin drug, or you and your physician feel it is important that you begin taking one, there are some things you can do to offset the potential side effects.

1. Supplement with Co-enzyme Q10. The recommended dose is 100-180 mg each day.
2. Add 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil to your diet each day. Olive oil is high in Squalene, an antioxidant often decreased with statin drug use.
3. Limit the amount of simple sugars in your diet and focus on complex starches. Simple sugars can increase the body's inflammatory responses.
4. Take a Niacin supplement. Niacin can enhance the effect of some of the statin drugs, which may allow you to take a lower dose.
5. Avoid eating grapefruit or grapefruit products, which can interfere with appropriate absorption of the drug.

Statins have become one of the most prevalent drugs in our culture. While statins have been proven effective at lowering "bad" cholesterol, that benefit comes with a price. Before beginning a statin drug, work with your doctor to evaluate your diet and lifestyle and give yourself three to six months to make changes. Drugs are not a substitute for proper diet, exercise and lifestyle and they come with a hefty price in cost and side effects. If diet, exercise and lifestyle aren't enough, statin drugs may be the best answer. Only you and your doctor can make those decisions. If you choose to use statins, remember that supporting yourself while taking stains is crucial to maintaining your health.

Author's Bio: 

Michelle Burns began learning about health and healing at a very young age, having many experiences with hospitals and doctors as a child. Her family embraced many forms of healing, such as chiropractic, that were not common when she was a child. As she grew up, she found pleasure in “helping” others, and in her early teens, began volunteering in nursing homes and hospitals. She chose to enter the military and was assigned to Walter Reed Army Hospital and achieved a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland. She went on to receive advanced training in surgical nursing which gave her a great understanding of the anatomy of the body. After a time, she went on to study gerontology as well as behavioral nursing and realized how connected our lifestyle choices are to our health and quality of life.

After 15+ years of nursing, Michelle remembered the many studies done in the 70’s on the effects of touch and felt it would be beneficial to bring touch back to nursing. She attended massage training and began incorporating massage into her nursing practice providing healing through massage for patients recovering from injuries or severe illnesses. After several years, it became clear there was still a piece missing, so Michelle attended Everglades University at Boca Raton and completed a bachelor’s degree in Alternative Medicine. Combining traditional and alternative medicine with her knowledge of healing processes has allowed her to take a unique and truly integrated approach to healing and wellness.

Michelle works from the foundational belief that we are all healers. As healers, we each seek our own path to self-healing and knowledge. Working collaboratively with both medical systems to find the most effective healing path for each individual she understands how traditional and alternative therapies can enhance healing. Michelle believes that each person must take charge of their own health in order to live a more healthful, balanced and “wholistic” life.