September 2014

On a Statin? A Healthy Lifestyle Is Still Important

Statins are one of the most widely used drugs. They have helped many people lower their cholesterol. That, in turn, has lowered their risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, 2 recent studies found that some statin users may be ignoring other heart-healthy choices—namely, eating a low-fat diet and exercising regularly.

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Revealing research

In the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers set out to see if people on statins ate a healthier diet than those not on the drug. They looked at data from a national health survey. The survey is done every year. It collects information about diet and health from a sample of U.S. adults.

For their study, researchers compared the diets of people on statins and those not on them. They focused on a 10-year period from 1999 to 2010. During that time, statin use more than doubled in the U.S. Early on, statin users ate fewer calories and less fat than nonstatin users. At the end of the decade, though, those taking statins were eating more of these.

In a separate study to measure physical activity, nearly 6,000 men were followed for more than 6 years. Those who took statins were less likely to do any type of exercise. They also tended to sit more than those not on a statin—an average of 53 minutes more a week. Part of the reason may be muscle pain. It’s sometimes a side effect of the drug.

Statins and your body

A healthy diet and regular exercise can go a long way to help lower your cholesterol. If those steps don’t work, your doctor may put you on a statin. Combining a statin with a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to keep your cholesterol under control.

Statins work by interfering with how much of a certain enzyme your liver makes. That enzyme naturally makes cholesterol. Your body needs some cholesterol to do many vital functions. For instance, the wax-like substance helps make hormones and create cell walls.

Cholesterol levels can build up in your body, though. They may rise when you eat foods that have a lot of cholesterol. This buildup can gradually narrow—and even block—blood flow through your arteries. One possible result: a heart attack.

You can’t control everything that may raise your cholesterol. For example, you may have a family history that makes it more likely for you to have high cholesterol. But you can take some steps. Along with eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, these may help:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can harm your blood vessels.

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Have your cholesterol levels checked. High cholesterol causes no symptoms. But a simple blood test can tell if you have too much of it in your body. If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor about whether a statin may be right for you.

 

Learn more about how doctors test for high cholesterol.

 

 

Online resources

American Heart Association

CDC

 

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