Statins failing to reduce LDL cholesterol in half of all cases

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After their early-1950s discovery in Japan, statins have become the norm for those with high cholesterol. As a medication, they’re very cheap. Until recently, they were assumed to be highly effective too.

But according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), more than 50% of those who take statins don’t reduce their LPL cholesterol to safe levels. So does this mean that statins don’t work for half of patients? Or is there another explanation?

What are statins?

Cholesterol comes in two forms: high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). They’re both necessary for forming certain hormones and rebuilding cell walls. But, having too much LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of atherosclerosis. This, in turn, makes strokes, heart attacks, and kidney damage more likely.

Statins are medications that aim to reduce your LDL levels. They work by blocking cholesterol production, but they’re not effective on their own. Patients with hyperlipidemia (the medical term for high cholesterol) need to alter their diets and boost their fitness, too.

What did the study find?

The study in question looked at more than 165,000 patients from the UK’s NHS database. The aim was to investigate whether they’d reduced their LDL cholesterol levels by 40% since starting to take statins.

According to the results, around 51% didn’t achieve the 40% reduction in cholesterol levels. Therefore, those interpreting the researcher’s findings have assumed that statins aren’t effective.

Does this mean statins aren’t effective?

A closer look at the study’s results reveals that it may not indicate that statins aren’t effective. Many of those who fell into the 51% were either taking a low or medium dose. Additionally, the study only looked at the numbers, it didn’t look into the reasons or other confounding factors. Some of the common reasons the medication may not have proved effective include:

  • Poor adherence, which means patients weren’t taking them as required.
  • No attempt to alter lifestyle factors – you can’t use statins to remediate a poor diet.
  • Other medications or medical conditions contraindicating the use of statins and rendering them ineffective.

With all that in mind, it would be a little surprising if those mistakes existed for such a significant proportion of users. But it does mean that there’s a need to investigate those factors thoroughly, with the aim of finding out why these cost-effective pills aren’t doing their job.

How else can you treat high cholesterol?

If you’re currently taking statins, continue using them for now and ask your physician for advice if you find this information concerning. You should also try the following tactics for reducing your LDL cholesterol levels:

  • Cut down on saturated fats by eating less red meat and less full-fat dairy.
  • Eat more omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as salmon, almonds, and flax seeds.
  • Add more soluble fiber to your diet.
  • Exercise five times per week for 30 minutes per session.
  • Eliminate trans fats from your diets, especially fried foods.

And if you find your cholesterol levels are still high, it’s time to have a conversation with your physician.

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About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.