Millions of people, every day in the word, discover they have high cholesterol and they must to lower this waxy substance in their blood otherwise there is the high risk of developing severe health problems such as cardiovascular disease (heart attack) or brain issues like ictus also known as stroke.
After studying the patient’s lipid profile, cardiologists prescribe statins as a drug to lower the levels of fat (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the blood. Statins are the most widely used drug in the world to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) just think that, in the United States only, one in four adults over the age of forty takes them.
Most of cardiologists believe that statins are the most suitable drug in these cases since they are supported by thirty years of studies and researches and, therefore, considered safe and effective for most patients.
However, a growing number of people are increasingly reluctant to take statins to lower their cholesterol. The reason for these doubts is the possible side effects that these drugs can cause.
We are talking about acute pain in the entire muscle structure which can be very disabling and even prevent normal daily activities. Another well-known symptom caused by statins is kidney failure.
Since the 1980s, statins, also known as HMG CoA reductase inhibitors, are drugs that can lower cholesterol by slowing its production by the liver. because 70% of the total cholesterol is produced by out body and statins can reduce this production, they are the most effective cholesterol-lowering medications on the market.
Several patients, however, reported to their cardiologists and to FDA(Food and Drugs Administration) unpleasant to severe side effects starting from headache, vomiting, constipation just to list the most common.
Statins is the name of the medication family but there are different drugs that belong to this group. Atorvastatin, for example, is considerate the most powerful but often it also can cause the highest number of side effects and interactions with other drugs, supplements and foods such as grapefruit juice.
The most tolerated statin is called Pravastatin that come in different strengths 10 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg and 40 mg. Also, Pravastatin sodium interacts with a few other drugs and has a half-life of 2 to 5 hours meaning that the body can eliminate half of dose in that time span. The result is fewer side effects and interaction if compared to other medications of the same family.
Your doctor cannot tell you in advance which statin works best in you case so you should follow your health care provider guidelines and let him know about your body adverse reactions. In case of severe medication intolerance, the clinician may decrease the dosage or change the statin type.
The alternative to statins that some patients consider effective for reducing blood LDL levels are dietary supplements and some natural foods which in some studies have shown some evidence of being able to decrease excess of fat in the arteries.
The most commonly used over-the-counter supplements Omega-3 fatty acids: some research shows that fatty acids are useful for lowering blood triglycerides but are not very effective in lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Soluble fibers: you can find soluble fibers in fruit, oats, legumes and even barley. However, fibers are not able to lower cholesterol more than 7% which is a percentage that does not protect against serious side effects as statins do.
Niacin (vitamin B3): Can lower triglycerides levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) by 10 to 30%, but cannot reduce LDL by more than 10%.
Even when taken together with statins, vitamin B3 is not able to reduce the risk of cardiovascular pathologies in patients.
Phytosterols: they are compounds of plant origin that you can find in legumes (chickpeas, adzuki beans, lentils), fruits (pineapples, berries, apples, oranges and apricots), vegetables (artichokes, green beans, asparagus, celery, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes and cauliflower), nuts (pistachios, almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, cashews and hazelnuts), oils (olive oil, sunflower oil, argan oil and canola oil) and even in some seeds (pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds and sunflower seeds).
Phytosterols have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol and compete with it during absorption by the body. However, some studies show that in the competition mentioned above, cholesterol is the winner. In fact, only 2% of phytosterols coming from food are absorbed by our body compared to 50% of cholesterol.
Unfortunately, phytosterols do not increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and can lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol by 6 to 12% only.
Red yeast rice:
This supplement manages to decrease your total cholesterol by lowering both LDL and triglycerides thanks to its active ingredient called monacolin K, the same ingredient that you can find in the statin called lovastatin (trade name: Altoprev).
Although it is an over-the-counter supplement, it is not without serious side effects, the same statins may trigger such as: kidney failure, liver damage, and muscle breakdown.
Due to the different amounts of monacolin K that manufacturers put in their red yeast rice supplements, it is difficult to establish the effectiveness of each of them and also the probability of side effects.
Randomized studies have verified that taking red yeast rice supplements can lower blood LDL levels by a minimum of 15% to a maximum of 25%.
However, most cardiologists recommend taking statins instead of red yeast rice because with the same efficacy and side effects, statins are better controllable in terms of dosage.
The decision to use either statins or supplements to lower cholesterol should be based on individual health conditions and medical advice. Statins are a proven and effective medication for reducing LDL levels in people with high risk of cardiovascular disease. However, some patients may experience side effects and may not tolerate the medication well.
On the other hand, supplements such as plant sterols and omega-3 fatty acids have shown promise in lowering fat levels in the blood, but more research is needed to fully understand their effectiveness and safety. Last but not least, healthy diet and regular exercise can also help to reduce the total cholesterol levels, triglycerides so to avoid the risk of cardiovascular disease. For the mentioned reasons, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before to choose statins over supplements to manage cholesterol levels.