Statins: unblocking traffic to your heart
When it comes to cholesterol, there are two important
numbers everyone should know. Low density lipoprotein
(LDL) is the bad kind of cholesterol that sticks to
the walls of the arteries. High density lipoprotein (HDL)
is the good cholesterol. "HDL is good because it takes
the LDL from your blood and returns it to the liver for
processing," explains Richard Levine, MD, Virtua family physician.
How do statins work?
In order to lower cholesterol levels, you first have to
reduce the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream.
And statins are like having a police escort on the highway
to block any more traffic, or cholesterol, from
entering. "When your body stops producing cholesterol,
it uses what's already in the body, lowering LDL," says
Thomas Galski, DO, Virtua cardiologist.
Statins also stabilize plaque in the arteries, reducing
the chance of it breaking off and traveling through the
arteries. "Depending on where it accumulates, plaque
can cause blockages that can have minor implications or
life-threatening consequences," says Dr. Galski. Treating
blockages can be anything from a minimally invasive
catheterization to major bypass surgery.
Recent studies also suggest that statins reduce
inflammation in the arteries, an indicator for heart
attack and stroke. Other medications, such as niacin,
and supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may help
lower cholesterol, but they don't reduce inflammation
like statins do.
Are statins right for me?
Both Drs. Levine and Galski agree that it's important
to talk to your doctor to develop a plan that's right
for you. "What might be a healthy cholesterol level
for you may not be for your spouse. That's why it's
important to discuss your medical history with your
family physician," says Dr. Levine. Statins, used in
conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise, can
keep you healthy and your cholesterol low.