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Almost as soon as they hit the market, quickly becoming the highest-grossing drugs in history, statins have fueled controversy.
The roots of that controversy may have grown from the decades-long debate over the lipid hypothesis, but the drugs themselves stoked concern when patients began reporting side effects, like muscle pain.
And after years of use, the list of side effects has grown — along with the number of Americans diagnosed with heart disease every year, despite the drugs.
The important thing is to know your risks when it comes to using statins or any drug, so any decision you make, likely along with your doctor, is an informed one.
To do that you’ll want to know what a new and large study has uncovered about statins and a new medication that goes after cholesterol a different way…
Why long-term research matters
Statins have been studied a lot, both in terms of how they work, and in terms of their possible negative effects including doubling dementia risk, accelerating onset of Parkinson’s and tripling the risk for type 2 diabetes, to name a few.
But the University of South Australia has completed one of the world’s largest studies on drugs designed to treat cholesterol. This study was also the first to compare these drugs to a range of clinical and heart and brain MRI biomarkers.
What they’ve uncovered, will have you weighing not only the good, the bad and the ugly about statins, but the “new kid on the block” as well — PCSK9 inhibitors, a newer class of cholesterol drug that only received a greenlight from the FDA in 2015.
Not surprisingly, the results gathered from the genetic data of 340,000 UK Biobank participants found a few more problems associated with statins…
They were found to correlate with higher BMI and body fat and reduced testosterone levels.
For both men and women, reduced testosterone can lead to low sex drive, lack of energy and reduced strength, muscle tone and bone mass. Testosterone is also a primary factor in the health of the heart and blood vessels.
One unexpected finding was that some people experienced an increase in brain volume of the hippocampus, which may reduce the risk of dementia and depression. It’s not clear if they were taking lipophilic statins which have been associated with dementia in another study.
But as far as the negative effects, statins weren’t the only problem…
PCSK9: Inhibiting cholesterol and lung function
Unlike statins, which lower the amount of cholesterol made by the liver, PCSK9 inhibitors go after and destroy cholesterol already in our cells. You may know them by the brand names: Praluent and Repatha.
The Australian research discovered that PCSK9 inhibitors could impair lung function.
That means if you’re already living with a condition that compromises your ability to breathe, such as asthma or sleep apnea, you may want to discuss with your physician if PCSK9 inhibitors are appropriate for you.
UniSA PhD student Kitty Pham, lead author of the paper, says that this is just the point she was trying to make.
“These findings help us to understand how people may react to different drugs and assess the viability of new drug pathways.”
In other words, a lot more needs to be known about cholesterol drugs so that physicians can prescribe them with caution, and with the specific needs of their patients in mind.
Drugs aren’t the only option
While research is ongoing into which of these cholesterol-lowering drugs might be best for whom, remember that there are drug-free methods for keeping your cholesterol under control.
In fact, what cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Klodas tells her patients about statins is that guidelines suggest four instances where drugs are necessary. And if you don’t fall there, she’s happy to discuss the impressive effects of lifestyle changes and why drugs are an incomplete solution.
That’s because lots of studies have also proven how effectively the right foods, exercise and stress management can reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have even shown the right diet can reverse it.
Studies have also identified causes of heart disease we’d never have suspected a couple of decades ago, like gum disease, thyroid function and testosterone balance. So it’s important to get the root of your health problem.
We’ve also learned that our diets don’t have to be as restrictive as we once thought to eat our way to a healthier heart. Simply avoiding the worst foods and eating more of a few key foods can get us where we need to be.
It’s your decision, just be sure you (and your doctor) have all facts to make the best decision for you.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Genetically instrumented LDL-cholesterol lowering and multiple disease outcomes: A Mendelian randomization phenome-wide association study in the UK Biobank British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology