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Home / High Cholesterol / What are statins?

What are statins?

More than 50% of people in the UK have cholesterol levels that are too high. Left untreated high cholesterol can cause heart disease, angina, heart attacks and a strokes. One of statin benefits is their ability to reduce cholesterol reducing the chance of you suffering one of the many related ailments.1

How do statins work?

The reason statins effects work is because they are able to slow down cholesterol production in the liver. They achieve this by changing the action of HMG-CoA-Reductase which is part of the action needed for the production. It will not block the production entirely, but by slowing it down it will reduce the chance of a buildup in your blood and vital organs. In addition to slowing down the production of cholesterol they also stabilize the amount of plaque that has collected and continues to collect in the arteries reducing the chance of stroke and heart disease.

What are statins used for?

Statins are used for lowering the cholesterol of those that have preexisting high blood pressure or are predisposed to it by genetics. Other ailments that could be affected by it include diabetes. There are various types of statins, however they do the same role in taking levels of cholesterol down.

You do need a certain amount of good cholesterol in your blood, which is one of the reasons statins are used. They do not take all of the cholesterol away which means the body still has the amount it needs to remain healthy. Bad cholesterol on the other hand in high levels is what can lead to deposits of fat in the arteries. This makes it harder for the blood to flow and makes the heart work harder to pump blood around the body. As a result of the fatty deposits high cholesterol suffers are more likely to suffer from health problems.

Benefits of statin use

Because of the high amount of people suffering from high cholesterol it makes sense to use statins to reduce the amount of admissions to hospital, medication and of course deaths. Many of the deaths caused by high cholesterol are premature and could be prevented by using statins in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. The quality and longevity of a person's life can be greatly improved and in some cases related health problems can also improve.

Side effects of using statins

The majority of people taking statins do not experience side effects, but as with all medications there are a few. Those few that do suffer report an upset stomach, nausea and headaches. Dangerous side effects happen to 1 per 10,000 patients with the risk of taking greatly outweighing the probability in many cases.2

Pancreatic inflammation, dizziness, insomnia, weakness, appetite problems and tinnitus are all extremely rare. Liver inflammation, blurred vision and tingling in the nerves of the hands have also been reported in a minority of patients. The statin provider will go through the risks with you to ensure the medication is right for you, but with one in 50 people avoiding a serious high cholesterol related event over the 5 years following treatment outweighs the risk for many.

Lowering high cholesterol and lipid levels

Lipids are another word used to describe the substance that can affect your health if levels are high. Lipids are created in the liver but can also be consumed in certain foods and are harmless at normal levels and actually necessary for the body to function. Cholesterol cannot move around the blood without proteins but the combination of both is known as lipoproteins. There are two different kinds, one being good (HDL) that takes excess cholesterol from the blood to be omitted from the body with usual waste. Having high levels of HDL is not a problem, the higher the better!

LDL is the mode of transport for bad cholesterol, when there is too much present it actually collects around the lining of arteries causing the heart to work harder. Lowering the levels of LDL is an extremely important part of preventing health problems in the future, especially if you have already been diagnosed or had a heart attack, stroke or other related episode in the past. Having one episode greatly increases your chance of suffering another.

Can statins be combined with exercise/medication?

Although statins can help to reduce cholesterol, lifestyle changes are also an essential part of lowering your risk of serious health complications. Modern technology and research has allowed people to find out whether they are at risk of developing problems with their cholesterol and certain groups are more likely to suffer than others. Exercising is a great way to keep your whole body healthy, even in those that have preexisting conditions including a history of heart problems/stroke(s).

Being overweight increases your risk of having high cholesterol levels because fat does not only collect on the outside of your body where it is visible. It can also collect around the major arteries and other organs meaning they have to work harder. The blood circulation is your body's transportation method for getting oxygen and other necessary nutrients to the organs that need it. Arteries constricted with fatty tissue cannot function as well. Exercise in conjunction with a healthy diet has been sown to reduce this. Moving around is good for circulation as it gets the bodies circulation going and reduces your risk of developing blood clots, therefore reducing the chance of having a heart attack/stroke. A waist size of over 40 inches in males and 35 inches in females increases your risk significantly. Exercise has also been shown to lower stress, which is another factor increasing your risk.

There are certain medications that can cause problems when taking statins. The first being any medication that affects the way proteins are transported around the body. Medication that induce metabolism should also be taken with caution. Blood thinning medication should also be used cautiously and monitored by a practitioner if statins are to be added to your medication.

Other types of medication will not affect the way statins work, but if you are currently taking other medication you should speak to your doctor before commencing.


1. Key facts and figures - Heart UK

2. Side effects of statins - NHS Choices

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