Reducing Cholesterol With Statin Drugs

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Cholesterol
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, more commonly known as statins, are the most aggressively marketed drugs for producing good cholesterol levels. In clinical studies statins achieved a striking reduction in cardiovascular problems such as heart attack, bypass, and hospitalization.

Statins are potent anti-inflammatory drugs that have been shown to be able to do a phenomenal job of reducing cholesterol levels, while also decreasing the number of deaths from heart attack and stroke.

Interestingly, these drugs are particularly effective for men, but less so for women. And, there’s a slight increased risk of breast cancer for women taking statin drugs. Because of the studies, and the fact that statins are still relatively new, I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to their use.

Common Statin Drugs

Some of the most commonly prescribed statin drugs include Zocor (simvastatin), Lipitor (avorastatin), Mevacor (lovastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), and Lescol (fluvastatin).

These drugs can be dangerous if taken with high levels of long-acting niacin (vitamin B3).   Side effects also include dizziness, headache, extreme fatigue, swelling of the ankles, muscle weakness, and liver toxicity.

In both men and women, statins may weaken the heart muscle because they lower CoQ10 levels. In women especially, statin drugs may deplete levels of CoQ10, contributing to a weakened immune system.

Still, if you have moderate to severe heart disease involving multiple vessels, I recommend statin drugs to help you obtain and maintain good cholesterol levels.  In addition:

  • Make sure you take a minimum of 150 mg of standard CoQ10 per day, or 50–60 mg of the hydrosoluble form, to offset the drug’s depleting effect. 
  • Niacin is one of my favorite cholesterol-lowering agents if you are not on a statin drug, because of its ability to increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol). Low doses in the range of 100–300 mg three times daily are often effective without resulting in side effects of flushing, heartburn or gout attacks.  A prescription form called Niaspan (750–1,500 mg) appears to be well-tolerated by most people with minimal side effects. 
  • Tocotrienols are antioxidants in the vitamin E family. Research suggests that they act much like statin drugs, minus the adverse side effects, by interfering with the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol. As little as 50 mg per day can have a positive effect.
  • My Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean-type diet (PAMM) is rich in fiber, healthy fats (omega-3s from fish and fish oil), garlic and onions (two potent cholesterol-busters), and fresh fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps soak up cholesterol and cleanse the colon, preventing rapid absorption of cholesterol.
  • Flaxseed is high in alpha linolenic acid and fiber, vital for healthy heart function.
  • Soy helps prevent the oxidization of LDL and subsequent buildup of artery-clogging plaque. Soy also can help with reducing cholesterol levels, help ease menopausal symptoms, and may help protect against cancers of the breast and prostate.
  • L-arginine—2–4 grams three times a day. TwinLab and Great Earth make good supplements that are widely available in health food stores.     

For more information on cholesterol lowering diets, visit  

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