Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is a waxy substance that clings to your arteries and restricts the flow of blood to vital organs. Over time, this process can increase your risk of heart disease. Statins are therefore a welcome intervention.
However, the effects of taking statins are not entirely benign: the drugs can cause a number of nasty side effects.
This is because statins can interact with certain medicines and dietary decisions.
In regards to the latter, grapefruit juice is to be avoided on certain types of statin because it can cause an adverse reaction.
Harvard Health explains this mechanism: “Certain classes of drugs — most notably statins — are metabolised (broken down) in your intestines by an enzyme called CYP3A, which normally reduces the amount of drug that enters your bloodstream.
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“Grapefruit juice contains compounds called furanocoumarins that stop CYP3A from doing its job. As a result, more of the drug is absorbed, making it more powerful than it’s meant to be — even toxic in some cases.”
According to the health body, not all statins are affected equally by grapefruit juice, so grapefruit fans might want to switch to a statin that’s less affected.
The statins that have a potent effect include:
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Lovastatin (Mevacor)
- Simvastatin (Zocor).
“It’s very important to read the information leaflet that comes with your medicine to check if there are any interactions you should be aware of,” advises the NHS.
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“If in doubt, contact a GP or pharmacist for advice.”
It is worth noting that many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around 1 in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Natural ways to lower high cholesterol
High cholesterol levels can also be lowered by improving aspects of your lifestyle, namely diet and exercise.
Exercise can also improve cholesterol.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol.”
The health body continues: “With your doctor’s okay, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
- Taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hour
- Riding your bike to work
- Playing a favourite sport.