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Lowering Cholesterol: Statins Are a Last Resort, Not a Magic Bullet
It's been suggested that statins should be added to drinking water to help combat high cholesterol. An editorial in the August 15, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology even proposed that fast food restaurants should dispense a packet of statins with every hamburger or milkshake.
So it's not surprising that many doctors think that the statin mindset has gotten totally out of control. According to a recent statement by American Heart Association spokesman, Dr. Vincent J. Bufalino, and reported on NIH's Medline, statins should be a last resort for cholesterol control, not a front line defense.
The best way to treat high cholesterol is to prevent it from getting high in the first place.
Having high cholesterol means a strong risk of future heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Every 38 seconds or so, it claims another victim.
Cholesterol tends to rise as people age. And some people have metabolic problems which cause the body to overproduce cholesterol. But many people with high cholesterol get it from their lifestyle. Being overweight by itself causes cholesterol levels to rise. And so does eating a diet that's high in cholesterol or saturated fat.
Statins are drugs that are very effective at lowering cholesterol. Taking them has been shown to lower the risk of death in people who already have heart disease. But it's never been clearly shown that they do the same for people that don't yet have heart disease. According to an article published last June 28 in Archives of Internal Medicine, they don't. That study pooled the results of 11 previous studies that included over 65,000 participants without heart disease. It found no statistical evidence that taking statins lowered their overall risk of death.
Some doctors question whether these results are meaningful. The study followed subjects for less than four years; heart disease may take many more years to develop. But there's no question that eating a healthier diet, maintaining a reasonable weight and exercising regularly all lower cholesterol, heart disease and risk of death.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of statins.
The three best non-medication based ways to lower cholesterol or keep it low are well known: lose weight; eat a healthier diet, one low in saturated fat and cholesterol, with no trans fat and high in fruits and vegetables; and exercise. Quitting smoking and lowering alcohol consumption also help.
Another dietary addition that can lower cholesterol is eating foods high in soluble fiber, like oatmeal. Soluble fiber tends to draw cholesterol out of the body.
For people who don't take to organized exercise, going for walks or even choosing the stairs over the elevator can be helpful.
Statins lower cholesterol but they don't lower weight. Overweight people taking statins are only addressing a small part of their health problem.
The fact that medical professionals are even suggesting adding statins to drinking water or as a side order with hamburgers shows how widespread the cholesterol problem has become. But many medical professionals see this approach as giving up. They prefer preventing cholesterol buildup in the first place to trying to bring it down with pills once it becomes dangerously high.
Even statins can't cure the effects of a lifetime of fettuccine alfredo.
January 18, 2011
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