When Statins Alone Are Not Enough To Lower Cholesterol
With heart disease being a major concern throughout the U.S., it is understandable that doctors most often prescribe statin medication as the first line of defense against high cholesterol. But is it enough? Many studies now suggest that in addition to statins, a comprehensive treatment plan is needed to improve cholesterol and reduce your risk of cardiovascular vascular disease (CVD).
Studies show sub-optimal response to statins
Several studies have looked at the effectiveness of statins.One UK study reviewed the results of more than 165,000 first-time statin users over the course of two years. Less than 40% of these statin users improved their baseline LDL cholesterol by the end of the study. Researchers concluded this was a sub-optimal response:
Optimal lowering of LDL-C is not achieved within 2 years in over half of patients in the general population initiated on statin therapy, and these patients will experience significantly increased risk of future CVD.1
Preventable risk factors statins can’t improve
When you consider how many other risk factors for heart disease exist, it makes sense that medication is not enough on its own. Statins reduce cholesterol by targeting fat molecules, but they do little to reduce high blood sugar, insulin resistance, hip-waist ratio, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides.
High blood sugar can be avoided by limiting your sugar intake and eating more fiber. A diet that is consistently high in sugar can have a negative affect on your insulin resistance, increasing your chances of diabetes, which is a leading risk factor in the development of heart disease.
Similarly, unbalanced high caloric meals that are high in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats will increase the level of triglycerides in your bloodstream. Triglycerides are considered a major risk factor of coronary artery disease because high levels lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
These risk factors are considered preventable if you follow a heart healthy diet, stick to a daily cardiovascular workout program, and make necessary lifestyle changes.
Heart healthy lifestyle changes
One of the best heart healthy diets to follow is the Mediterranean Diet. Rich in vitamins and high in fiber and Omega-3 fats, the Med Diet helps you maintain a healthy hip-waist ratio with a menu of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil. It’s easy to follow and it shows you how to swap out unhealthy food options for nutritious flavorful choices.
Another recommended heart healthy diet is the DASH diet, which teaches you how to track your food intake, reduce your salt consumption, and lower high blood pressure. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension recommends eating foods rich in blood-pressure-deflating nutrients like potassium, calcium, lean protein, and fiber.
A combination of diet and exercise is the approach you need to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Cardiovascular exercise is important because it works your heart, conditions your muscles, and improves your circulation. Choose an activity you enjoy like walking in the park and commit to 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity every day.
It’s important to remember that change takes time to get used to, so make these lifestyle alterations gradually. Tweak them where necessary until you come up with a diet and exercise program you enjoy and will stick to.
To get the full benefit of your heart health treatment plan, these additional lifestyle changes are recommended:
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
- Sit less, move more
- Adopt relaxation techniques
- Sleep well
- Drink less caffeine
- Limit alcohol consumption
There are 100 million people in the U.S. with unhealthy cholesterol levels. While statins are often prescribed to help improve dangerously high cholesterol levels, a sub-optimal response is not going to help you prevent future cardiovascular disease. To fully tackle heart disease, a comprehensive treatment plan is the best way to reduce all risk factors and promote heart health.2
- Heart: 15 April 2019. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2018-314253
- Harvard Health Publishing: Help for cholesterol when statins won’t do; March 2014.
- Blog Contributor