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Controlling Cholesterol With Statins

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What Affects Cholesterol?

The following factors affect blood cholesterol levels:

  • Certain foods - eating too much saturated fat, found mostly in animal products, and too much cholesterol, found only in animal products
  • Heredity - genes play a role in influencing the levels
  • Weight - excess weight tends to increase the levels
  • Exercise - regular physical activity may not only lower LDL cholesterol, but it may increase the level of desirable HDL cholesterol
  • Smoking - cigarette smoking lowers HDL cholesterol
  • Age and gender - cholesterol levels naturally rise as men and women age. Menopause is often associated with increased LDL cholesterol in women.


State of the Statins

The main goal of cholesterol treatment is to lower LDL to levels that will not lead to or worsen heart disease. When a patient without heart disease is first diagnosed with elevated blood cholesterol, the National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines advise a six-month program of reduced dietary saturated fat and cholesterol, together with physical activity and weight control, as the primary treatment to bring levels down.

When diet and exercise alone are not enough to reduce cholesterol to goal levels, doctors often prescribe medication—the most prominent being the statins. By interfering with the production of cholesterol, statin medications can slow the formation of plaques in the arteries.

Statins are relatively safe for most people, but some can respond differently to the drugs. Certain people may have fewer side effects with one statin drug than another. Some statins, in particular Lovastatin and Simvastatin, also are known to interact adversely with other drugs. This information, coupled with the degree of cholesterol-lowering desired, will help guide the decision about which statin to use, or whether another type of drug should be used.

Statin medications (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors)

  • work in the liver to prevent formation of cholesterol
  • are effective in lowering bad cholesterol levels and raising good cholesterol
  • are not recommended for pregnant patients or those with active or chronic liver disease
  • can cause serious muscle problems

Currently available statins

  • Lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)


Tips for Consumers

  • Have your blood cholesterol levels checked at least once every 5 years if you are an adult 20 years or older.
  • Check with your doctor. You may be able to lower your cholesterol levels by eating better and exercising more.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease.
  • Stay active every day.
  • Use the food label to choose foods lower in saturated fat, including trans fats, and calories.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Don't stop taking any cholesterol-lowering medications you may be on without first talking to your doctor.

For more information about topics for your health, visit the FDA Consumer Information Center ( 

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