The British Heart Foundation says that only 1 in every 10,000 people on statins may experience a potentially dangerous side effect. This risk is balanced against the potential benefits provided by these medications.
Cholesterol medications are prescribed in individuals who have high blood cholesterol. This is usually in addition to advice regarding a healthy, balanced diet. A balanced diet for a person with high blood cholesterol is one with low saturated fat, high fiber, and low refined carbohydrates.
Cholesterol is an important part of the body and its cells, as it forms the building block of some hormones. The liver produces all the cholesterol the body needs, but cholesterol also enters the body from dietary sources such as eggs, milk, and meat. Too much cholesterol in blood can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, leading to heart attacks and stroke.
To control blood levels of cholesterol; dietary advice, cessation of smoking, moderation of alcohol intake, and regular exercise is often the first step. When blood cholesterol is not controlled with balanced diet alone, medications may be necessary. Cholesterol-lowering drugs include statins, niacin, bile acid resins, and fibric acid derivatives.
A Japanese biochemist, Akira Endo, in 1971, working for the pharmaceutical company, Sankyo, started research on a cholesterol-lowering drug. It was already known at the time that an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase worked in the liver of individuals to manufacture cholesterol. Endo and his team developed the first statin called mevastatin, a molecule produced by the fungus Penicillium citrinum. A British group proceeded to make a similar compound called compactin from Penicillium brevicompactum in 1976. Mevastatin could not find place in the cholesterol-lowering drug market because of its severe side effects on muscles, as seen on laboratory dogs before it could be tried on humans. It was only in 1978 that lovastatin - the first statin was developed by pharmaceutical company, Merck, from the fungus Aspergillus terreus. It was first marketed in 1987 as Mevacor®.
How can statins help lower cholesterol?
Statins block the production of cholesterol in the liver; this is how they lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. They also have a mild effect in raising high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol that is also known as "good cholesterol." Statins have been shown in several research studies over decades to reduce the risk of heart attacks and death from heart disease.
Examples of statins include:
How to take statins?
Statins are available as tablets that are to be taken once a day. The tablet should normally be taken at the same time every day. In most cases, they are advised to be taken just before going to bed. If a dose is forgotten, an extra tablet is not advised to be taken to make up for the lost dose the next day, instead the normal dose can be resumed as usual.
In most cases, treatment with statins may be necessary for life because stopping them may raise the cholesterol levels.
Precautions and side effects:
Statins can sometimes interact with other medications. It is thus important to inform the prescribing physician about other medications that are concomitantly taken. Some types of statin can also interact with grapefruit juice.
Most people who take statins experience no or very few side effects. Some of the minor side effects include headache, stomach upset, nausea, or feeling sick. Serious side effects include damage to the kidneys and damage to the muscles.