Originally Published: January 24, 2009 8:16 p.m.
When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, the foods you eat and the genes you inherit matter. Good heart health also may depend on the drugs you take. Several medicines are effective at lowering blood cholesterol levels - a key factor in good heart health. Chief among them, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are the statins.
Statins (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) are a class of drugs used to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood by reducing the production of cholesterol by the liver. Statins block the enzyme in the liver that is responsible for making cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can increase a person's chance of getting heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States.
There are no warning symptoms of high cholesterol. A simple blood test will measure the different kinds of cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol can clog the arteries. Lower numbers of LDL are best. The higher your LDL level, the greater your risk for heart disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol carries bad cholesterol back to your liver, where it's eliminated. The higher your HDL level, the lower the risk for heart disease.
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 people can respond differently to the drugs. Certain people may have fewer side effects with one statin drug than another. Some statins are known to interact adversely with other drugs.
Also, statin medications are not recommended for pregnant patients or those with active or chronic liver disease. If you have a cholesterol problem, check with your doctor to see if a statin might work for you.