Dr. Oz’s Guide to Statins

Find out what you need to know before starting a statin.

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Statins have become an overwhelmingly popular medication for treating high cholesterol, and for good reason. They do a great job of lowering LDL cholesterol in your blood, which is the bad form that can contribute to heart disease. But statins, like any medication, should only be used after other measures have been taken to try and fix the problem. Here are three rules to think about before starting a statin.

Rule 1: Don’t Use Statins as a Band-Aid for Heart Disease

There are a number of reasons a person’s cholesterol can be high, but lifestyle factors play an important role in determining your cholesterol balance and levels. Exercise is one of the best ways to lower cholesterol, especially if your numbers are only borderline high. Cutting out processed foods and added sugar while adding in fruits and vegetables is also a great way to lower your numbers. Statins can lower your cholesterol, but they can’t change the factors that made it high in the first place. If you’re at risk for heart disease, work with your doctor to figure out how you got there and what you could do to lower that risk before going on a statin.

Rule 2: Try Lifestyle Changes for Three Months Before Taking a Statin

If you’ve found you have high cholesterol, you want to give yourself the best possible to chance to get it into the safe range and keep it there. Statins might be part of the strategy, but lifestyle factors have to be a key player for you to have the best shot at lowering your numbers and keeping them there. If your doctor mentions you may need a statin, say you’d like to try lifestyle changes for three months. Ask for your doctor’s help in figuring out how you can add exercise into your life and change your diet for the better. This gives you an opportunity to get to normal levels without needing to take a medication. The best part? Diet and exercise can drop your weight, lower your risk of diabetes, lower your blood pressure, improve your mood and pass on a variety of other benefits that can drop your heart disease risk while also improving your overall well-being. Statins only help with your cholesterol.

Rule 3: Weigh the Risks Against the Benefits

This is where you’ll really need your doctor’s help. As with all medications, statins come with their own host of side effects. Fortunately, the negative side effects from statins are generally mild, and the more serious side effects like liver damage and muscle pain are rare. But there are risks and they should be weighed against the benefits. It’s important to remember that you’re the one who needs to do this weighing. After discussing the pros and cons of taking statins with your doctor, decide whether they seem worth it to you. And remember, you can change your mind at any time if you decide those costs or benefits have changed.

Seem overwhelming? I’ve put together some questions for you to take along when discussing statins with your doctor. Remember, statins can play an important role in reducing your cholesterol and overall risk of coronary artery and heart disease, but they’re not the only way to address high cholesterol. The key is to give yourself the best possible chance to live a healthier life. That means changing your lifestyle and using medications to supplement those efforts if necessary.

Finally, if you're on statins already, don't stop taking them without talking to your doctor first.