Lowering cholesterol with statins

Statins are the name given to a group of cholesterol lowering medicines available on prescription in the UK. Statin therapy is recommended for adults at high risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease)1 and also those who already have a history of cardiovascular disease.

How do they work?

Statins work by reducing the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. They do this by blocking the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver cells; this forces the cells to get their supply of cholesterol from the blood, thereby lowering the blood cholesterol level.

Do they have side effects?

Some side effects have been documented with this medication including headache, stomach upset, altered liver function and some muscle pain but these side effects are usually mild, easily recognisable and reversible.4 It is essential to note that many people will have no side effects at all from this medication.

Statin medication still continues to be the least toxic and most effective prescribed treatment of raised cholesterol.2 Occasionally statins may not be suitable for some people due to the aforementioned side effects, or for specific groups i.e. people with active liver disease, children and pregnant or women who are breastfeeding.3,4

Can I take plant stanol foods whilst I'm taking statin medication?

Plant stanols partially blocks the absorption of cholesterol, whereas statins block the production of cholesterol in the liver. Both mechanisms are therefore working separately to reduce ‘bad' (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.

Who can I contact for more details?

It is recommended that you consult your doctor before starting any medication.

For more information, contact the British Heart Foundation's Heart Information Line free on 08450 70 80 70 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm).

Or call HEART UK on 0845 450 5988 (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm)

1. Statins for the prevention of cardiovascular events. NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence). London. 2006.
2. Schachter M. Statins – all the same? http://www.heartuk.org.uk/new/downloads/factsheets/J-Statins-all_the_same.pdf  Date accessed 07/04/2008
3. Risk estimation and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. SIGN. Edinburgh. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. 2007
4. Medicines for the heart. London. British Heart Foundation 2004.