High Cholesterol Treatment -- What Works?
Safe, effective treatment for high cholesterol isn't hard -- but it can be confusing. Get the facts.
Weight Loss & Exercise as a High Cholesterol Treatment continued...
As a high cholesterol treatment, physical activity can have a modest effect. Exercise can lower your triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent) and boost your good HDL cholesterol. So you should aim to get some physical activity -- even just a brisk walk -- for 30-60 minutes most days of the week.
But there are limits to what exercise can do. "For most people, exercise by itself wouldn't be an effective therapy to lower cholesterol," says Laurence S. Sperling, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Ga. But it can keep your weight down and reduce other cardiovascular risks.
Medications as High Cholesterol Treatments
If lifestyle changes haven't been enough as a high cholesterol treatment -- or if you're at high risk of cardiovascular problems -- your doctor will likely turn to medications. In most cases, the first drug you will try is a statin.
Statins like Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor work by blocking the effects of an enzyme that helps make cholesterol. They can lower bad LDL cholesterol by an impressive 20-55%. They have a modest effect on triglycerides and give a mild boost to your good cholesterol, too.
But don't assume that taking a statin makes you invulnerable. They won't cancel out a diet of french fries and fondue. "Statins are a complement to dietary changes," says Hutter, "not a replacement for them."
As with any drug, there are side effects. They can cause muscle aches, an increase in liver enzymes, and other issues. But the risks are low and it's important to keep them in perspective.
"On one hand, statins can reduce your risk of death, heart attack, stroke by 30-35%," says Sperling. "On the other, they pose a 1-2% risk of generally mild side effects." The benefits are often worth the small risk, Sperling says.
Although they tend to be overshadowed by statins, other medicines are also important high cholesterol treatments instead of, or in addition to, statins. They include:
Bile acid resins like Colestid, Lo-Cholest, Prevalite, Questran, and WelChol. They stick to cholesterol in the intestines and prevent it from being absorbed. They can lower LDL cholesterol by 15-30%.
(Zetia) blocks some of the cholesterol from being absorbed by your body. It can lower LDL levels by 18-25%.
Fibric acid like Antara, Atromid, Lopid, and Tricor. They reduce your triglycerides and may give a mild boost to your HDL.
, available as Niacor, Niaspan, and Nicolar. Niacinmodestly lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and can raise HDL cholesterol at low doses. LDL levels are usually cut by 5-15%.
A combination medicine like ezetimibe with simvastatin (Vytorin) which uses a statin to block production of cholesterol and ezetimibe to prevent cholesterol from being absorbed.
Remember that medicines aren't right for everyone. Since they're often taken for life, you and your doctor need to carefully discuss whether you should use them.