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The cholesterol-lowering statin drug Lipitor has become the best-selling drug of all time. This class of drugs garnered so much enthusiasm in the medical community that some U.S. health authorities reportedly advocated for statins to be added to the public water supply like fluoride is. One cardiology journal even offered the tongue-in-cheek suggestion for fast-food restaurants to offer “McStatin” condiments along with ketchup packets to help neutralize the effects of unhealthy dietary choices.

For those at high risk for heart disease who are unwilling or unable to bring down their cholesterol levels naturally with dietary changes, the benefits of statins generally outweigh the risks. These drugs do have side effects, though, such as the potential for liver or muscle damage. The reason some doctors routinely order regular blood tests for patients on these drugs is to monitor for liver toxicity. We can also test the blood for the presence of muscle breakdown products, but biopsies reveal that people on statins can show evidence of muscle damage even if their blood work is normal and they exhibit no symptoms of muscle soreness or weakness. The decline in muscular strength and performance sometimes associated with these drugs can place our seniors at increased risk for falls and injury.

More recently, other concerns have been raised, including the potential for brain-related side effects, such as memory loss and confusion. Statin drugs also appear to increase the risk of developing diabetes.

Why accept any risk at all if you can lower your cholesterol naturally? Plant-based diets have been shown to lower cholesterol just as effectively as first-line statin drugs, but without the risks. In fact, the “side effects” of healthy eating tend to be good—less cancer and diabetes risk and protection of the liver and brain.

The information on this page has been compiled from Dr. Greger’s research. Sources for each video listed can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab. References may also be found at the back of his books.

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