Whether you realize it or not, you probably know someone who takes a statin every day, before bed.

According to a 2016 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, statins were the most commonly prescribed drug class, used by nearly half of all Canadian seniors to prevent heart attack and stroke.

How – and why – statins work

Despite its widespread use, this class of drug is often very misunderstood. It’s taken daily, sort of like an aspirin – but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike aspirin, which thins the blood to prevent clots, statins function by reducing the liver’s production of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol by blocking an enzyme that the liver uses to create cholesterol.

So why is this significant? To answer that, we need to take a closer look at the role cholesterol plays in cardiovascular disease.

When your body has too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, it builds up in the walls of your arteries causing a range of heart disease. Statins are a successful medication, because they don’t just lower cholesterol levels, but also reduce the risk of fatty plaques breaking off from walls of your arteries leading to a heart attack or stroke.

It’s worth mentioning that this “anti-plaque” effect goes away if you stop taking your statins, and most people will be on one form of statin or another for life once having been prescribed the drug.

Other statin benefits

Though not commonly prescribed specifically as a cancer intervention, scientists believe statins may also play a role in the prevention and treatment of various cancers, and have been shown to decrease tumor growth.

Various studies have shown that statins played a role in lower risk of dying from various cancers, for example:

  • 22% lower risk of lung cancer mortality
  • 43% lower risk of breast cancer mortality
  • 47% lower risk of prostate cancer mortality
  • 30% lower risk of colon cancer mortality

Statins may also play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, which is often linked to high cholesterol in late life, however this seems to hold true for only certain segments of the population. Regretfully, statins do not seem to have any effect treating Alzheimer’s.

Side effects

Statins are generally well tolerated, but some users will experience unpleasant side effects from their daily use of the drug.

Patients have reported that they have suffered from memory loss, or other cognitive impairment when taking statins. This may be due to the fact that 25% of the cholesterol in your body is found in your brain, where it is essential for the normal functioning of the brain. It is theoretically possible that excessive inhibition of cholesterol production could result in neurological effects.

Another common side effect reported by users of statins includes muscle soreness, also called myopathy. As many as one out of five people taking statins will experience chronic aches and soreness in their muscles, and this is often a result of drug interactions with other medications for conditions like diabetes or hypertension.

Remember, pain management options or cognitive concerns can be addressed with your doctor, but you should never stop taking your statins even if you are experiencing unpleasant side effects.

 

There are many different kinds of statins on the market, a dizzying list of brands. If statins will benefit your long term health and care, your doctor will know which is right for you.

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