Q. I have been battling statin side effects for years. My doctor has prescribed Lipitor, Crestor, Pravachol, Lescol and Zocor, but I cannot tolerate any of them because of muscle pain and weakness.

It is imperative for me to keep my lipids under control because of coronary artery disease. What can you tell me about niacin and other ways to control LDL cholesterol? I would also like to know how to raise HDL cholesterol.

A. Although statin-type drugs are extremely effective at lowering LDL cholesterol, many people cannot tolerate side effects such as muscle problems, nerve damage (neuropathy) or memory impairment. There are other ways to lower cholesterol, however.

Niacin can be a very effective way to lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. It also reduces triglycerides. A doctor must supervise niacin use, since it can cause liver toxicity as well as uncomfortable side effects (flushing and itching).

Other strategies include fish oil and the soluble fiber psyllium. Non-statin prescription drugs that can help control cholesterol include WelChol, Tricor and Zetia.

We are sending you our Guides to Heart Health and Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs with more information about niacin, fish oil and other strategies. They can be downloaded for $2 from this Website. 

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  1. Peter G
    Reply

    My pharmacist and doctor helped me formulate this daily routine of supplements as an alternate to statin drugs:
    Night:
    1) 500mg Niacin (w/81mg aspirin for my heart/ prevents niacin side effect of itching)
    2) Metamucil/psylium fiber drink occasionally.
    Dinner time:
    2) Red grape juice or occasional red wine.
    3) Tripple Omega fatty acids from flax/borage seed/fish oils, or krill oil.
    Pre-dinner
    4) Cholestoff occasionally
    Snacks:
    5) Walnuts, berries, green tea
    Lunch:
    6) Red Yeast Rice
    Breakfast:
    7) Oatmeal/fibrous grains, Multivitamin
    8) Co Q-10

    • tom
      madison, wi
      Reply

      How did this routine work for you? I have similar issues. I was told that regular use of cholesteroff (which did lower my cholesterol) could have long term issues like statins.

      Has anyone had the same advice about cholesteroff or know where such studies exist?

      thank you

  2. greatowl
    Reply

    I am attempting to find a solution to the problem I am facing with my cholesterol. I have been taking statins for almost 30 years. I have gone through them all. I have been changed several times due to muscle cramps.
    Recently, I have been taken off of statins entirely. My numbers were great. Total was 129 and below. LDL has been 50, triglycerides 93. However, three weeks ago my CPK (CK) climbed to over 15,000. They stopped everything. After three weeks my CK level has dropped back to 106. My Lipid levels are now: Total 260 and rising, LDL 188, and Trigly. at 168.
    Years ago they tried just a strict diet because my total level was just above 200. After six months on the diet I climbed to 358. I am headed in that direction now or higher.
    I have had five heart procedures and three brain surgeries among my 21 major surgeries. I enjoy eating and hate to think of living my last 30 plus years consuming food that I hate. I am currently 71. They have taken away my exercise, my medication for cholesterol and put me on all sorts of over the counter supplements. This has not helped at all. In fact, I have read on WEBMD.com and other sites that it is not wise to be purchasing over the counter supplements because they are not subject to FDA approval and are just a money ripoff. I have read many articles on what not to take or consume, but nobody has any information on how do I lower my numbers by 100% to 200% in some cases without the statins.
    I have been cautioned about not taking niacin since there is a correlation between many of the non statin drugs and cancer. I have had a slight case of bladder cancer. Everyone in my family passed away from cancer related disease and I have a daughter who has had two bouts of cancer. The latest was breast cancer.
    I am not getting any answers from any of the sites on the internet where I have left messages. I do not know if this one will be any different.
    Any avenues that anyone can suggest would at least give me some places to look. I do have access to two specialists in Lipid/pharmacy treatment at the UW-Madison Hospital in Wisconsin, but so far no one has come up with an answer. I do know that diet changes will not do it. Long ago I had been told that I should not try to starve myself of Cholesterol because it causes my liver to accelerate the making of a natural source. This is why I went as high as 350 and higher.
    HELP!!!! would be appreciated. At least to the extent that I need to know what questions to ask doctors.
    P.S. I have had an extremely heavy athletic career and did exercise very consistently up until the Rhamdo.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Rhabdomyolysis is a very serious complication of statins. It could be exacerbated if you were also doing some unusually strenuous exercise.
    Although nothing is as quick or complete at lowering cholesterol as statins, there are other ways to get your cholesterol down. Ask your doctor about fibrates.

  3. Catherine
    Reply

    I won’t take a statin. Go to this site and read all of it. Cholesterol Myth. I won’t take thyroid either. I’m not going to be a zombie or in pain from drugs that are supposed to help.

  4. Grace
    Reply

    As a 59 year old female with a family history of high cholesterol, fibro, and heart disease as well as secondary diabetes II, I am now being advised to start on a statin. I just recently got the leg cramps under control and the side effects treated via chiropractic and the fibro under control with alfalfa and non-shellfish glucosomine (allergic to shellfish). I am a quarter to half dose medication person which doctors refuse to understand — yes, a children’s Tylenol is all I take for most headaches even when I take that much. I have had to quit a professional job due to fibro.
    My mom has taken thyroid medication for years and struggled with her weight because of them. I was on thyroid medication in the past and gained 25 pounds from it, losing most of it when I carefully ate after throwing the medicine at the PA/Dr. I got rid of migraines without medication but forgot how I did that- chiropractic I think. I am allergic to pork, dairy except processed milk aka cheese, and shellfish.
    My PA wants to 1) put me on a statin, 2) wants me on thyroid medicine, 3) a low-glycemic diet (I’m already almost a cheese/egg/fish vegetarian) and 4) wants me to lose weight. I am terrified of the statins and have been taking lecithin, garlic and hawthorn to try to get higher numbers down in addition to using a modified Daniel diet.
    I do take a 25 gram low cholesterol/low sugar protein shake daily and have lost 15-20 pounds just watching my weight. However, that’s still a LOT of pills to take. I also use Chromium Picolonate 800 to turn any sugar into energy. I have been investigating the guggalipid herb in that it’s supposed to address what I believe to be the central issue… thyroid as well as cholesterol. Am I barking up the right tree or is there a better approach?
    (My dad is a near zombie from all his medication — from all appearances he has Alzheimer’s but reading about the statins I see why it appears that way.) I don’t care to go that route myself and would just as soon die happy and alert rather than do the statins. HELP!

  5. PS
    Reply

    My problem with the statins I’ve been prescribed (Lipitor, Pravastatin) is sleeplessness. I spend 2-3 hours trying to get to sleep and get run down on 3-4 hours sleep at night. When I stop taking the statin, the problem goes away. I haven’t seen this side effect in any comments. Has anyone else experienced this?

  6. DL
    Reply

    The problem with red yeast rice is that it also contains a statin. I looked it up in a medical journal. I need to lower my very high cholesterol without statins as I get severe muscle pain and weakness. I am trying exercise, and was exercising regularly until my muscles backfired on me. Since I got off the statin (Simvastatin) my muscles have gained some strength, but functioning is far from normal. I eat oatmeal every day, use olive oil for cooking religiously, and exercise. I also need to lose a lot of weight, but I have had ha high cholesterol since I was at a normal weight. I have to build up what muscle I have lost, but my muscles still feel weak. I need to find another alternative to statins. I am scared s***-less of them! My GP doc is no help.

  7. Jan
    Reply

    I took simvistatin for a while and had horrible joint and muscle problems in my arms, shoulder and hip area. She took me off and put me on pravastatin. The problem is better in the hip area, but not in the shoulder and arm area, especially at nighttime. It is very painful. I have taken more ibuprofen in the last year than I have taken in my entire lifetime. Isn’t there something that is better than statins? My husband takes Advicor and has no problems, but it is very expensive; $371 for 90 pills. I’m 71.

  8. Jme
    Reply

    Just started taking a statin two weeks ago. I was prescribed Simvastatin 20 mg 1 time at bedtime. I had immediate bad reaction of headaches and nausea. Tried staying on them for 4 days but nothing changed. I called my Dr. and he changed me to Lipitor. I am having the same reaction to it. I will be calling him in the morning to change this prescription as well. I don’t think I have been on either one long enough to experience the muscle pain or weakness. However, my husband took Tricor and Lipitor for years and has complained of muscle problems in his back.
    He just went for a stress test with a new cardiologist about two months ago and he was taken off Tricor and Lipitor and they were replaced by Lovaza and Crestor. He is still experiencing muscle pain in his back. These “statins” are NOT the answer. I sure wish with all the research that is being done, that they would find something without these side effects. Will be doing more research and will post any findings. My niece is a pharmacist-I will start there!!
    Thanks for all of the input to this site!

  9. KD
    Reply

    I have taken Cholestoff and had to quit. Not long after I started taking it I was having shortness of breath and muscle aches. The aching muscles didn’t bother me as much as the shortness of breath did. Has anyone else had these symptoms with statins? My total cholesterol is 290 but my HDL is 100 and my triglycerides are 25.

  10. PM
    Reply

    My Mother was on vytorin for years and must have have adverse reactions. (pain in extremities, abdominal pain listlessness @ times). Then had a non-responsive episode requiring hospitalization. Vytorin was stopped. Placed on lipitor. Her side effects were abdominal pain distention, constipation shoulder and knee pain, memory loss, elevated liver function. Once lipitor was stopped no further pain. Now cholesterol is elevated. What shall we try now?

  11. JR
    Reply

    I need to say this. This seems like a good place to post.
    I have tried RYR, Lipitor, simvastatin, Crestor. Every one of them caused a stiff neck which caused tension headaches. Also, on 3 occasions I had ocular migraines which never in my life have I had. While off of the statins never experienced one. My sex drive was ka-put! Lust for life taken away. Trouble sleeping and somewhat constipated. I gave up alcohol, everything, to get this to work. Although I have a very very healthy diet and weigh 195 @ 6’2″ (within healthy zone) and workout (lift, run, etc) my cholesterol still clocks in at 245. My HDL is good at 70 but my total is still too high.
    I am now cranking down on the diet. I have switched to green salads for lunch, have replaced other carbs with raw nuts, my fruits are already good, I already do not eat meat and have now cut out chicken, I am going with fish and soy as my protein sources, and overall just going low glycemic. I think I’ll get my weight down to 185. I wish I could find out how to get one of those MRI or MRA or whatever its called to see if I have any plaque build up. I mean, I’m not even sure I have a problem.
    All I know is my total cholesterol is 245 and really, what does that actually mean? I mean, cholesterol is a family and comes in several forms each having very different uses and effects. Both HDL and LDL are split up into more subfractions. Who is to say that my 245 isn’t actually perfect and all I am doing by taking a statin is poisoning myself and that’s the reason for the adverse effects.
    I wish “they” would just release the real data on cholesterol and Dr’s would start doing a full test on the complete spectrum of cholesterol. This is all a bunch of BS. We are all being slowly killed with this bogus BS so someone can make a ton of money. I saw where Bill Clinton is on this strict vegan diet and now his cholesterol profile is perfect. Of course, whatever perfect means when talking cholesterol, but still his diet yielded results. OK, I’m done venting.

  12. JBA
    Reply

    I have experienced various side effects from taking statins but due to family history (both mother and father having had heart conditions), I must take some medication to lower my cholesterol. I am presently on 10 mg. of Lipitor and months ago started taking Cholestoff in addition (my physician is the one that recommended the plant sterols found in Cholestoff) and I have also been more careful with my daily food intake.
    As a result over the last twelve months I have lost 25 lbs. I did not see a drop in my cholesterol until this past December. My overall cholesterol is down to 202 from 234, my LDL is now 104 down from 132 and the HDL is 79 and triglycerides are 97. My current problem is that I began to get an itchy feeling and my allergist said to stop the Cholestoff for a couple of weeks and gradually resume taking the tablets.
    I had been taking 2 prior to lunch and 2 prior to dinner (900 mg for two tablets so I was maxing out at 1800 mg. for the day). My Lipitor intake has been 10 mg. every other day. I do hope that this does not set my numbers going off in the wrong direction again because I am really happy that I have finally got the cholesterol numbers where they are respectable!!

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