Statins Do More Than Lower Cholesterol
By Eduard Koman, MD, Cardiologist – Virtua Cardiology
About 40 million people in the U.S. take a statin drug, typically to lower high cholesterol. But they have other important benefits, too.
Statins are often the first line of therapy if diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes have not sufficiently improved your cholesterol levels. You probably recognize many of their names, like atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor).
What Statins Do in the Body
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells in your body. Cholesterol can combine with calcium and other materials to form plaque that builds up inside your blood vessels.
Too much plaque leads to atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries that increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Statins help keep the liver from producing cholesterol. This reduces the amount of low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, in the blood. Statins also help lower triglycerides and increase your level of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, “good,” cholesterol.
But there’s more. Statins may also help:
- Lessen inflammation in your blood vessels, which works against the buildup of fatty deposits
- Reduce the risk of having a heart attack or the most common type of stroke, especially in people with diabetes
- Decrease the chance that people with heart disease will need a cardiac procedure
Studies also suggest statins may reduce the risk of death from some cancers.
Who Needs to Take a Statin?
Health care providers use a variety of measures to determine if you should take a statin. The American Heart Association and other groups suggest statins may be helpful if you:
- Had a heart attack or stroke
- Have heart disease
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Have LDL cholesterol levels of 190 mg/dL or higher
- Don’t have heart disease yet, but have LDL levels of 70 to 189 mg/dL and an elevated risk of having a heart attack within the next 10 years
Statins are safe and effective at reducing your risk for heart attack and stroke. But statins may cause some side effects and interact with certain other heart disease drugs. Talk to your provider if a statin is right for you.
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Updated August 6, 2021