glenn ellis

Glenn Ellis

*Today, the number of American adults who should seek medical advice in order to reduce their high blood cholesterol levels has reached over 100 million. One medication that has limited side effects and is known to lower cholesterol levels and fight heart disease while Americans are continually getting larger is statins.

Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs, and among the most touted with good reason. They can dramatically lower so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol. Studies make clear that they save lives when used by people who already have heart disease.

Problems occur when there is an imbalance of cholesterol in your body.   A waxy, fat resembling substance, cholesterol naturally manifests itself in cell walls and membranes everywhere in your body. One very important use of cholesterol is to produce many hormones that your body uses daily to live a normal life.

If you aren’t able to cut down your cholesterol levels using natural remedies, your doctor may decide you need medical assistance in controlling your cholesterol. It is important that you continue with healthy lifestyle treatments also. Although there are numerous types of medications to assist in lowering your cholesterol levels, we will be focusing on statins.

What is debated is how much the drugs help people who do not yet have cardiovascular disease but whose chances are higher because of other factors such as smoking or high blood pressure – or diabetes. In fact, long-term diabetes is so heart-risky that the American Diabetes Association urges fairly aggressive statin use by many diabetics.

Diabetes and statins have a complex relationship and are the focus of intense patient and healthcare debate. Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs. Statins are also used in diabetes care due to the knowledge that people with diabetes face a greater likelihood of heart attack and stroke.

For everyone else, the general rule is statins help people who have at least a 10 percent chance of a heart attack in the next 10 years, something a doctor can calculate.

All drugs have side effects that are important to consider while deciding whether they are a good bet for an individual. Statins have long been known to cause muscle pain that on rare occasions becomes a serious breakdown of muscle that can lead to kidney failure, even death.

But whether statins can make blood sugar rise enough that someone crosses the threshold to diabetes has been confusing.

What are statins and how do they work? Statins repress the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase. This enzyme controls the rate that cholesterol produces itself in the body. Statins can lower cholesterol from 20% to 60%. They slow the production while they increase the liver’s ability to withdraw LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins). Statins lower the LDL levels better than any other type of drug.

While decreasing triglycerides and total cholesterol, statins can also create a moderate increase of High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). Within 4 to 6 weeks of starting the medications positive results are normally seen. Lowering heart attack risks, strokes, and other high cholesterol level related coronary diseases are what statins have been demonstrated to do.

Taking statins is not a good idea if: you are pregnant or breastfeeding; you have liver problems; you have experienced renal failure; you regularly drink 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day; or if you have allergies to the ingredients in statins or statins themselves. As always make sure to contact your local physician before using cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may be associated with an increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women, a new study suggests. The relationship between statins and diabetes is not inseparable, but becomes beneficial when your cholesterol levels tend to rise as a consequence of the diabetes itself. When you are suffering from diabetes, particularly the type 2 diabetes, you also run a potential risk of suffering from cardiac problems. Statins help in lowering the cholesterol levels and that brings up the relationship between statins and diabetes.

Nevertheless, it is not essential that every individual diagnosed for type 2 diabetes is put on statins.  The gender of the individual and the age will be among the major considerations of your physician in determining the benefits of statins and diabetes for you.  Statins by themselves do not represent a cure for diabetes and conversely can be the trigger for diabetes in individuals who are otherwise healthy.

While statins may be beneficial in controlling cholesterol levels they are not free from side effects. Depending on various metabolic facts, these side effects can vary from one individual to the other. Some of the more common side effects from the relationship between statins and diabetes are:

  • Problems with the liver function
  • Headaches
  • Constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and similar stomach problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Muscle related problems

Most individuals are placed on statins because of high levels of cholesterol. Though reduction of cholesterol is important, heart disease is complex and, as discussed previously, other factors such as inflammation may play a role. Thirty-five percent of individuals who develop heart attacks do not have high blood cholesterol levels, yet most of them have atherosclerosis. This means that high levels of cholesterol are not always necessary for atherosclerotic plaques to form.

While statins do help in keeping cholesterol levels in diabetic patients under check, they can also act as a trigger for the onset of diabetes in some instances where statins are administered as part of cholesterol control for an otherwise healthy individual.  Unfortunately, this is among the several instances where the cure itself becomes worse than the disease itself.

There is no known cure as yet for diabetes. World over, people affected by diabetes are able to carry on normal life and even enjoy most part of it more through a disciplined life style than medication itself.  Including high fiber food in your diet (oat meal, oat bran, kidney beans, barley, and fiber rich vegetables) fish, walnuts, almonds and similar nuts are helpful in keeping your cholesterol under check. Avoiding bakery products, most diary products and meat (all of them are rich in saturated fat and thus aid cholesterol build up) inhibit cholesterol build up.

Control is the best measure to keep diabetes under check and when you believe in yourself, you can always put those helpful measures into practice and manage your diabetes.

If you have high cholesterol, meaning your total cholesterol level is 240 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL, or higher, or your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) level is 130 mg/dL or higher, your doctor may recommend you begin to take a statin. But the numbers alone won’t tell you or your doctor the whole story.

If the only risk factor you have is high cholesterol, you may not need medication because your risk of heart attack and stroke could otherwise be low. High cholesterol is only one of a number of risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis,  is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, was released in January, 2013.

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