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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Randy

Statins are a class of drugs commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol. The overall cardiovascular health of the U.S. is so poor that cardiologists have suggested tongue-in-cheek that statin drugs be given out free with fast food meals. However, statins can have side effects, such as upset stomach, muscle pain, muscle and/or liver damage. Many people with heart disease apparently stop taking their statin drugs within a couple of years due to these side effects. Also, the long-term use of statin drugs may be associated with more than double the risk of breast cancer.

Statins may produce adverse effects in up to 1/3 of patients, whereas therapies based on dietary and lifestyle changes generally result in few or no adverse side effects. People may be able to lower cholesterol with lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and not smoking, which may together account for more than 90% of heart attack risk. In comparison, pharmacological therapies such as statins typically reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 20 to 30%. The best statin drugs can do in reducing absolute heart attack risk is 3.1% over six years, while a whole foods, plant-based diet could possibly reduce absolute risk by 60% after four years and may lead to a 25% drop in the bad to good cholesterol ratio within one week, which is the equivalent to a therapeutic dose of a cholesterol lowering statin drug. Adding just two servings of lentils, chickpeas, beans, or split peas per day may able to cut cholesterol levels to below the range for which statin drugs are typically prescribed. Healthier diets may be associated with higher sperm counts, but statins are not. Brazil nut ingestion may also help lower LDL cholesterol starting about nine hours after ingestion, while it takes statins days to have a significant LDL-lowering effect. The editor of the American Journal of Cardiology states that eating a plant-based diet to lower cholesterol is safer and less expensive than using high dose statin drugs.

The supplement red yeast rice actually contains lovastatin, a statin drug used to lower cholesterol.  However, taking red yeast rice to lower cholesterol is not recommended because actual lovastatin amounts are not standard in red yeast rice servings, and one could still have side-effects from ingestion.


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