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What a Statin Can Do continued...

When you take a statin, you do more than improve your cholesterol levels. They also reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other heart problems. “[Statins] are one of the great success stories of modern medicine," McBride says.

So does taking a statin mean you can sit on the couch and eat bacon all day? Of course not. Doctors say the best way to protect your heart is to make healthy lifestyle changes while taking a statin.  

Potential Side Effects

Like any medicine, statins can interact with other medicines you take, and they can have side effects:

  • More common: Headache, GI problems, muscle and joint aches, or rash
  • Less common: Memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes
  • Very rarely: Muscle or liver damage

Research shows that some people with muscle aches from statins feel better when they take extra CoQ10, a substance your body makes to help cells produce energy.  Don’t take CoQ10 supplments on your own, however. Work with your doctor when you take any supplement.

Overall, the risks of taking statins are very low -- lower than the risks from taking two aspirin a day, McBride says. "The benefits are well-established, with hundreds of thousands of people studied in clinical trials.”

Other Options

Some people take supplements along with statins, or -- if their cholesterol isn't too high -- instead of them. There's good evidence that some supplements can help with cholesterol levels.

  • Fish oil can lower triglycerides by up to 50% and improve HDL levels, the “good” cholesterol. People in most studies showing a benefit have taken 1 to 4 grams of fish oil a day. While usually well-tolerated, fish oil supplements can cause a fishy aftertaste, heartburn, or upset stomach.
  • Sterols and stanols are available in supplements and are also added to foods such as some margarines, orange juice, or yogurt. These can lower LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, by up to 15%. Cholesterol experts recommend 2 grams per day. 

Soluble fiber -- available in supplements such as psyllium as well as in food -- can lower LDL cholesterol.. For every 5 to 10 grams that you add to your diet, you can lower your levels by up to 5%. Try to get at least 25 to 30 grams of total fiber a day. Most fruits, vegetables, and oats have both soluble and insoluble fiber.