High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Chances are that if you have high cholesterol, sooner or later your doctor is going to discuss whether or not statin therapy is right for you.
Designed to lower cholesterol levels, statin drugs accomplish this goal in two ways. Firstly, statin drugs operate by acting as a blocking agent, preventing substances that your body needs to make cholesterol work.
Secondly, statins help your body reabsorb existing blood cholesterol. This reabsorption works to prevent artery blockage which can lead to a heart attack. Some of the most well-known statin drugs include Lipitor, Zocor, Mevacor, Pravachol and Crestor.
While statins lower cholesterol, they aren’t without side effects and risks, some of which are quite serious. Some people experience nausea and diarrhea while others may become constipated.
One of the most common complaints while on statin therapy is muscle and joint aches. These symptoms may or may not go away. More serious side effects include liver damage, higher blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes. Others may experience statin myopathy or muscle pain and tenderness.
It’s possible for statins to cause muscle cells to break down, releasing proteins into the blood that damage the kidneys. Statins can also cause memory loss and confusion.
Although it’s not yet been conclusively proven, some research indicates that statins may be associated with the development of Lou Gehrig’s ALS disease.
Because of the side effects, many people choose not to take statins and turn to lifestyle changes or alternative remedies to lower cholesterol levels. Some people, approximately 5–10 percent, aren’t able to tolerate the side effects of statins at all, particularly in the higher doses.
Since statin therapy dominates the treatment field, those who can’t tolerate statins are left with few alternatives. However, clinical trials are currently underway for a new cholesterol-lowering therapy, REGN727, that may change the way high cholesterol is treated.