Statins are a class of medicines that are used to lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
They drugs block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making cholesterol. Although cholesterol is necessary for normal cell and body function, very high levels of it can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis where cholesterol-containing plaques build up in arteries and restrict the blood flow.
Several types of statins are in use;
Atorvastatin and rosuvastatin are the strongest and fluvastatin is the least so. Mevastatin is a naturally occurring statin that is found in red yeast rice.
Research in recent years has discovered other benefits of statins apart from cardiovascular ones. Research showed that they may actually reduce the risk of developing cancer of the gullet.(esophageal cancer)
Statins inhibit an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which controls the production in the liver. They act to replace the HMG-CoA slowing down the cholesterol production.
Other enzymes in the liver cells recognise cholesterol production has decreased and react by creating a protein that increases of LDL (low density lipoprotein).These are the “bad” cholesterols receptors. They move to the liver cell membranes and bind to passing LDL and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). Both then enter the liver and are digested.
Side-Effects of Statins.
Much has been reported in the press about the side-effects of statins, but what really are they and do the benefits out weigh them?
Common side effects
Although side effects can vary between different statins, common side effects (affecting between 1 in 10 people and 1 in 100 people) can include:
- problems with the digestive system such as constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and/or flatulence (passing wind)
- muscle and joint pain
- difficulties sleeping (insomnia)
The British Heart Foundation say ” The importance of statins should not be underestimated and the risk of side effects is outweighed by the benefits and the use of them is why fewer people have high cholesterol in comparison to 20 years ago”.