A decade ago, doctors joked about putting statins in the water. That’s how strong was the faith in these cholesterol-lowering pills’ ability to save lives. Fast forward to this week, when yet another downside to the drugs emerged: It turns out they can sap energy and cause people to fatigue more easily when they exert themselves, possibly making them less likely to exercise.
Then there’s the pesky fact that, depending on your situation, taking a statin may not do anything to save your life or help you live longer.
“Statins were initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention of a repeated heart attack or stroke in patients with high cholesterol who had already suffered from a heart attack, which is called ‘secondary prevention,’ “ says Kent Holtorf, MD. But today most people are prescribed a statin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke.
“It is coming to light that the benefits of using a statin for primary prevention have been greatly exaggerated,” says Dr. Holtorf. “Evidence keeps mounting that using a statin to lower cholesterol in someone without known heart disease is of little if any benefit.”
Bottom line: If you don’t already have heart disease, you may not need a statin, even if your cholesterol is high.
“Statins are powerful and effective drugs, with some benefits beyond the obvious lipid-lowering effect,” says David Katz, MD. “But they are not miracle drugs — and like all drugs, are less effective and less safe for health promotion in general than the power of lifestyle.”
It’s hard work,” says Dr. Katz, “but those who use lifestyle effectively to modify their risk factors are likely to be better off avoiding these drugs.”
If your doctor does prescribe a statin, ask why he thinks you’ll benefit, and why he thinks that for you, the benefits outweigh the risks. These are smart questions to ask no matter what drug your doctor prescribes.
“All drugs with the potency to do good have the potency to do harm,” says Katz. “The cultivation of the former and avoidance of the latter depend on judicious use — and even then, a bit of good fortune.”
If you do take a statin, Katz suggests that also taking co-enzyme Q10 may help combat any drop in energy.
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