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Cholesterol, Statins & Muscle Aches

Published: 20th Apr 2016   

If you've had a routine check up and been told your cholesterol is too high, then you were probably prescribed a statin. These are cholesterol lowering drugs which are considered the best treatment to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Statin therapy is regarded as the corner stone of prevention in cardiovascular disease. The drugs are taken by a staggering 17.5 million people in the UK and are generally well tolerated. Side effects are rare but have been reported to occur in 1 in 5 users (Gajrai, 2016). These symptoms range from muscle pain, cramps, and fatigue to blurred vision and memory problems. Muscle pain is by far the most reported symptom affecting 29% of people who take a statin (Stroes et al,. 2015).

Over half of those who are prescribed the medication discontinue it after 2 years of use, mostly because of muscle pains. Muscular aching or cramps is usually symmetrical and affects the thighs, buttocks, calves and back muscles. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) estimates that 50,000 deaths a year could be prevented if everyone who is eligible was taking the drug. So weighing up risk versus benefit is important here.

Lowering blood cholesterol (with drugs), without addressing the dietary and lifestyle issues that are considered the big risk factors for cardiovascular health, is surely only treating the symptoms. Certainly we are not suggesting that anyone stop taking their medication, as research has shown that the drugs significantly reduce cardiovascular risk, but if the wider issues of high cholesterol are not addressed we are bailing out the boat without fixing the leak.

So what can we do to reduce the cardiovascular risk, lower our cholesterol and the dose of statin needed to be healthy as well as avoid unwanted, painful side effects?

dose of statin needed to be healthy as well as avoid unwanted, painful side effects? Well there are lots we can do for ourselves naturally, and eating a healthy diet plays a huge part in lowering cholesterol. Eating plenty of fruit and fibre from a variety of sources is considered important. A study at Oxford University found that eating a piece of fruit daily lowered the risk of strokes and heart attacks by a third. This is the same success rate as using statins (Du & Bennett et al,. 2016). Consuming plant sterols, naturally occurring substances found in vegetables and pulses etc, have been shown to have cholesterol lowering properties too. The charity Heart UK advises that plant sterols are the single most effective food for lowering cholesterol. Sterols can be consumed in fortified foods like spreads and yoghurts or taken as a supplement.

Exercise and activity improves cholesterol levels and has a protective effect on cardiovascular disease. So do yourself, and your heart, a favour and get moving! As an example, doing around 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) a week has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.

Statins are still an effective way of reducing cardiovascular risk, but they are not tolerated by everyone. Any medication to lower risk will be much more successful if part of a healthy lifestyle. Improving diet and habits may allow dosages to be reduced and uncomfortable side effects prevented. Cardiovascular health is not all about the drugs and surely it's time to get serious on addressing the causes not just the symptoms.

If you would like to reduce your cardiovascular risk naturally then our team's capabilities, which includes nutritional therapy, hypnotherapy, physiotherapy and osteopathy, can support you and your health. So why not contact us at the Stubbington Natural Health Clinic to see how we can help.

Source Material:
Stroes et al,. (2015). Statin associated muscle symptoms. European Heart Journal, 36, 1012-22.

Du & Bennett et al,. (2016). Fresh fruit consumption & cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine. April,374(14). 1332-43

Stanols & Sterols. The Association of UK Dieticians.

Heart UK, The Cholesterol Charity


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