Considering a Statin For High Cholesterol? Know the Side Effects
Learn about the pros and cons of taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels
HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, more commonly known as statins, are the most highly touted cholesterol-lowering drugs on the market. The most often prescribed statin drugs include Zocor (simvastatin), Lipitor (avorastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), and Lescol (fluvastatin).
In clinical studies, statins have achieved a striking reduction in coronary events such as heart attack, bypass, and hospitalization. However, these benefits are almost entirely related to statins’ powerful anti-inflammatory properties—not their ability to lower cholesterol levels.
So while the overall data show that statins can be of great help to people with both high cholesterol and advanced heart disease, statin drugs definitely aren’t for most people. That’s because their benefits just aren’t worth their potentially dangerous side effects:
- Dizziness, headache, extreme fatigue, swelling of the ankles, muscle weakness, and liver toxicity
- Depletion of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels, which weakens the heart muscle and immune system
- Depletion of vitamins A, E, and B12, and essential minerals
- Excessive metabolic stress on the liver when taken in combination with long-acting (time-released) niacin
- Memory and cognitive problems
- Sleep problems
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Increased risk of breast cancer for women
My Bottom Line for Prescribing Statins
Because all evidence points to the fact that statin drugs are effective at reducing internal inflammation—which is a factor that I believe is much more relevant to heart disease than cholesterol levels—I continue to prescribe statins for middle-aged men who have coronary artery disease, regardless of their lipid levels.
But I do not believe statins should be prescribed to everyone simply to lower cholesterol. For otherwise healthy people who could, in fact, get their blood lipids under control with simple dietary changes, natural supplements, and regular exercise, the benefits simply do not outweigh the risks associated with statin drugs.
WATCH: Is Taking a Statin Drug the Right Choice for You?
More Dr. Sinatra Advice on Healthy Cholesterol Levels
What nutrient support do you need to help lower your cholesterol? Find out which supplements promote healthy cholesterol levels.
What numbers indicate high cholesterol? Get my recommendations on what constitutes healthy cholesterol levels.
Considering a bile acid sequestrant to lower your cholesterol? Learn more about the pros and cons of bile acid sequestrants for those with high cholesterol.
How do you avoid nutrient depletion if you're on a statin drug? Find out which nutrients your body may make less of when you take a statin drug.
Worried about memory loss while taking a statin drug? Learn my insights on this potential adverse effect of statin drugs.
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Meet Dr. Sinatra
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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