‘Don’t ignore it’: The side effects of taking statins that can appear ‘all over’ the body
Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins lower the risk of heart disease by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver. LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it clings to the walls of your blood vessels, thereby raising your risk of the leading killer. The effects of taking statins are not entirely benign, however.
Most people experience no side effects when they take a statin and most take them every day without any problems.
However, “side effects can occur with all medications, and the most commonly reported side effects of a statin are muscle aches and pains”, explains cholesterol charity Heart UK.
The charity continues: “The muscle ache and pain that some people say they get with a statin use are typically a generalised muscle discomfort, lasting more than a couple days (rather like the symptoms that we all may have when we get ‘flu).
“It is usually all over and does not just affect one part of the body. It is not joint pain or localised cramp.”
According to the charity, if you experience this “don’t ignore it” – you should talk to your doctor.
How to minimise the impact of muscle aches and pains
There are several things you can do to prevent or minimise the aches and pains that might accompany statin use.
“There is some evidence that people who have exercised regularly before taking statins are less likely to experience muscle pain and cramping,” says Harvard Health.
The health body continues: “Although gentle stretching may relieve muscle cramps, beginning a new vigorous exercise regimen while taking a statin may increase the risk of muscle pain.”
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It also says to “commit to an exercise routine, lose weight if you need to, and adopt a heart-healthy eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet”.
The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
Other tips include:
- Have a thyroid blood test. If you have a low thyroid hormone level, taking replacement thyroid hormone pills may alleviate muscle pain and can also improve your lipid profile
- Take supplements. If you have a low blood level of vitamin D, restoring it to normal with a supplement may help reduce muscle pain and cramping. Some people find symptom relief with coenzyme Q10. However, small clinical trials haven’t substantiated the positive effects. Get your doctor’s advice about taking either of these
- Change your prescription. If, after a few weeks of statin use, you’re still experiencing muscle pain or cramping, you and your doctor might consider going to a lower statin dose or switching to a different statin, possibly one that is designed to be taken less frequently. Adding another type of cholesterol-lowering drug called ezetimibe (Zetia), which hasn’t been associated with muscle pain, may also allow your doctor to lower your statin dosage.
How to respond to side effects
The NHS says: “Your doctor should discuss the risks and benefits of taking statins if they’re offered to you.”
It’s important to note that the risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
Natural ways to lower high cholesterol
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says: “If you have high cholesterol, it’s most important to eat less saturated fat.”
Foods that are high in saturated fats are things like fatty and processed meat, pies and pastry, butter, cream, and coconut oil.
According to the BHF, the best way to eat a better diet is to swap your saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fat like vegetable oils (sunflower, olive and rapeseed oil), nuts seeds and avocado and oily fish.
“A few small swaps can make a big difference to your cholesterol level. Many people say they don’t notice the difference.”
- Swapping butter to vegetable oil spreads like sunflower, olive or rapeseed oil spreads
- Switching whole milk to skimmed milk
- Using natural yogurt instead of sour cream or double cream
- Replacing regular mince with leaner, lower fat options
- Swapping red or processed meat for fish, turkey or chicken without the skin, or plant-based proteins such as lentils, soya or Quorn
- Switch your crisps for unsalted nuts
- Having reduced fat cheese instead of regular cheese.
“Eating high-fibre food can also help to lower your cholesterol,” adds the BHF.
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