Are statins safe AND effective?

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Statins lower cholesterol in most people’s blood. There is no disputing this fact. But questions still remain about whether the results are worth the risk.

Researchers and doctors do not yet know what the long-term effects might be for people who are prescribed statins. They are not sure about side effects, and they don’t know for sure if statins can help prevent heart disease.

Statins are prescribed under different names. They include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor). Generic versions of these medications are also available. They block substances required to make cholesterol in the body, and also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up in plaques on your artery walls. These plaques can clog blood vessels and cause heart attacks.

But high cholesterol alone does not make the case for prescribing statins, especially for people under the age of 50, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Other risk factors include race, gender, blood pressure and whether you have diabetes or smoke cigarettes. The following guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association apply to people who are likely to be helped by statins:

— People who already have cardiovascular disease. These include victims of heart attacks, strokes caused by blockages in a blood vessel, mini-strokes, peripheral artery disease and those who have had prior surgery to open or replace coronary arteries.

— People who have very high LDL (bad) cholesterol, those who have diabetes and patients whose risk of a heart attack is high within the next 10 years.

But there are things you should start doing now whether you have been prescribed a statin or not. They are:

— Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

— Establish a healthy diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, refined carbohydrates and salt. Make sure your diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains.

— Establish a proven exercise regimen and stick with it.

— Maintain a healthy belt size, which is less than 40 inches in men and less than 35 inches in women.

And this is where integrated health coaches can help. They will work with you on a regular basis to help you to reach your health goals and to maintain them. Also remember: If you are prescribed a statin, be sure to be tested regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Lisa Burbage

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