Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is a waxy substance that collects on the inside of your artery walls, thereby raising your risk of heart disease and having a heart attack. Statins therefore reduce your risk of cardiovascular complications but the effects are not entirely benign.
Research shows that risks of developing type 2 diabetes are increased by higher doses of statins and the duration they are taken for.
According to a study published in the journal of the American Heart Association, duration of statin use was classified as one, one to two years, and two years after the start date of statin use. There was a proportional increase in risk for every year the participants in the study were taking statins.
Atorvastatin (type of statin) dose of 40 to 80 mg/d or rosuvastatin (type of statin) dose of 20 to 40 mg/d was categorised as a high‐intensity dose.
According to Diabetes.co.uk, the risk is low – less than one percent of those that take statins go on to develop diabetes.
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Nonetheless, the risk has sparked a lot of debate as to whether or not the diabetes risk may outweigh benefits of the drugs.
The decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is that the heart benefits are of greater significance than the diabetes risk.
Other important considerations
According to the NHS, statins should not be taken if you have severe liver disease or if blood tests suggest that your liver may not be working properly.
“This is because statins can affect your liver, and this is more likely to cause serious problems if you already have a severely damaged liver,” warns the health body.
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It adds: “Before starting to take statins, you should have a blood test to ensure your liver is in a relatively good condition.”
Of course, 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 one 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.
Additional research shows that that for every 1,000 people that are at risk of heart problems, if those people take a statin for three years, statins will prevent:
- Seven non-fatal heart attacks
- Four strokes
- Two deaths.
Alternative ways to lower high cholesterol
It is important to note that you can lower your cholesterol levels naturally by making lifestyle changes.
If you have high cholesterol, it’s most important to eat less saturated fat.
Foods that are high in saturated fats are things like fatty and processed meat, pies and pastry, butter, cream, and coconut oil.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the best way to improve your diet is to swap your saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fat.
Examples of unsaturated fat include vegetable oils (sunflower, olive and rapeseed oil), nuts seeds and avocado and oily fish.
As the BHF explains, a few small swaps can make a big difference to your cholesterol level.
Simple tweaks include:
- Swapping butter to vegetable oil spreads like sunflower, olive or rapeseed oil spreads
- Switching whole milk to skimmed milk
- Using natural yogurt instead of sour cream or double cream
- Replacing regular mince with leaner, lower fat options
- Swapping red or processed meat for fish, turkey or chicken without the skin, or plant-based proteins such as lentils, soya or Quorn
- Switch your crisps for unsalted nuts.
To enhance the benefits of eating well, you should engage in regular exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol picks up LDL cholesterol from your artery walls and transports it to the liver where it is flushed out.