pitcher of grapefruit juice

Q. Cholesterol-lowering drugs like simvastatin or pravastatin make my muscles weak and my brain foggy. Without statins my brain works fine but my cholesterol climbs.
My doctor agrees that I can’t tolerate statins but he hasn’t offered me anything but Welchol. I eat no red meat and almost no fat. My cholesterol is over 230 and that is too high. What else can you recommend?

A. You are not the only person who has reported complications with statins such as atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin or simvastatin. Many visitors to this website have shared stories such as the following:

“I was led to believe that ‘some light muscle cramping is possible, but very rare’. How stupid of me! I am now 60, but two years ago I ran about 40 to 50 miles per week, with several marathons completed. After a few months on Crestor, my shoulders and back muscles were just trashed after a day’s sailing. It took over 2 months to recover.
“Later, I experienced severe leg cramps in the latter stages of a 12 mile run. My doctor was adamant it was not the drug, so I kept running, but slowly, figuring I had just overdone it that one day and would slowly recover as usual.
“After three more months, I was almost paralyzed. After driving for about two hours, I could hardly climb out of my car! Then the doctor decided to reduce the dose; when that didn’t work, he switched me to Zocor (simvastatin).
“The Zocor label has a warning not to eat grapefruit. As a runner, I consume citrus fruit regularly, so that was THE day I decided not to take Crestor, nor Zocor, although my doctor continued to assertively promote this drug. I have since mostly recovered, but still experience some weakness when running hills, and take an unusually long time to recover from long runs.”

“I began using Pravachol (pravastatin) for borderline elevated cholesterol levels (because I am diabetic). After a couple of weeks, I began having severe pain in both legs, but much more pronounced in my right leg.
“Coincidentally I also had a benign lipoma in my right calf. The doctors zeroed in on that, lacking any other reason for my symptoms which were rapidly growing worse: severe pain requiring medication, loss of coordination and speed in walking, loss of bladder control, spiraling downward until I required the use of a wheelchair to leave home.
“I saw neurologists, orthopods, and finally a surgeon. Thank God he was an intelligent and ethical one.
“I remembered faintly hearing something about statins causing leg pain (a fact vehemently denied by all my docs). The surgeon said in his opinion it would be very worthwhile to try stopping the Pravachol before contemplating surgery on the lipoma (because as a diabetic, the prognosis for a full recovery were not good).
“Long story short, I did — and all the distressing symptoms ceased within a couple of weeks.”

“I suffered from 10 hours of amnesia in 2009 when I was 63 years old. I had been on statins for ten years. Upon rising that morning, my blood pressure was very high and would not drop so I was hospitalized and thoroughly tested, including MRI, EEG and EKG for stroke or other possible causes including blockage of carotid arteries.
“All of those tests were negative. My final diagnosis was that I had suffered a TGA (Transient Global Amnesia). I don’t remember all those tests but came out of the amnesia feeling well. I went off statins and now control my cholesterol with Inositol Hexanicotinate, 1600 mg daily. My cholesterol is not as low as it was on statins, but is in an acceptable range.”

It is possible to control blood lipids without statins.
One approach that may be helpful is to include a little more fat in your diet. Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from fish (salmon, sardines, tuna) or nuts (walnuts) can help control cholesterol and fight dangerous inflammation in the blood vessels. That may be almost as important in preventing a heart attack as lowering your cholesterol.
The Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health we are sending you has many such suggestions for nondrug approaches to lowering cholesterol, including some you may not have considered, such as grape, pomegranate or red grapefruit juice. Supplements containing niacin, psyllium fiber or magnesium may also be helpful.
You can get even more details about controlling your cholesterol and improving heart health in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. In the book, you will also find the dietary strategy reader Laura Effel used to lower her cholesterol 44 points without drugs. Here is a link to our shopping cart.

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  1. Brooke
    Okanogan, WA

    I couldn’t handle the statins and I was on the lowest dose possible. I now take Tricor (fenofibrate) and have had no side effects. It doesn’t work as well as the statins, but it keeps my cholesterol stable at 160. Perhaps for someone with as high cholesterol as this person it is worth a try. I am working on diet changes, too, and this is a long process. I sometimes think my cholesterol is hereditary (if that’s possible) and it’s okay where it is. No heart attacks or strokes in my family and my parents are both in their 80’s.

  2. Lynn R OBrien
    New York

    I love this, love this, love this. I want to hear more on what others have to say on these subjects. As a nurse I pass these meds out in the morning on a regular basis. Now I am in my 60’s. Im looking for dietary ways to change and improve my bodily functions. My Cholesterol when last checked was just below 200 and has been forever. One of your subscribers mentioned checking out a risk assessment. I have newly emerging symptoms of my confirmed rheumatoid arthritis coming into play. I always look for natural substances first.

  3. Miss Shasta

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 20 years ago. I started taking Lipitor about 12 years ago for my cholesterol. Having fibromyalgia already, I figured the excessive pain I was experiencing was from that. I got to where I could hardly walk because my feet hurt so bad. I began swelling in my feet and legs. The doctor told me to get support hose. I tried that and my feet and legs still swelled to the point I thought I was going to have to cut the stockings off. I’ve been treated by a chiropractor for over 12 years. I’ve gone to pain clinics, had physical therapy, and had multiple shots in my spine. Just by happenstance, I read an article about Lipitor and the side effects. I stopped the Lipitor, without tell my doctor, and began feel so much better. The swelling almost went completely away, and I could walk without pain. I told my doctor and she gave me the benefits outweigh the bad speech. She finally said to stay off Lipitor and see how I did. Before the 6 weeks she wanted me to go on Crestor. I had exactly the same reaction. I took myself off Crestor. My cholesterol on Lipitor is 124. I haven’t been off both drugs yet for a month, but I’m already a different person. I’m 66 and work full-time. I need my job so it’s imperative I have good health. No more statins for me!

    • Sherry
      Tampa, FL

      I had almost the same identical experience. I became completely disabled and unable to work.

      I had a huge argument with doc this morning about not taking statins.

      It’s a shame when drugs are forced on us.

  4. Lucy

    I took statins and they worked at lowering my extremely high cholesterol. It must be genetic because I am a tiny person and I have always been an exerciser. I started to develop high blood sugar, so I had to quit.

    I tried Sytrinol but it raised my cholesterol 30 points. (it’s now 280 and 67 trig, 65 HDL 200 LDL) I tried plant sterols but they didn’t do anything. I give up. My body just wants to make a lot of cholesterol. By the way I know if cholesterol was so important, then why are people on Statins still having heart attacks. I know someone on the maximum dose of Lipitor and they still had a heart attack.

  5. Kay Roberts

    I took Lipitor and Tricor both my feet started bothering me severely. I blamed this on my job, I worked in a florist and was on my feet all the time, still taking the cholesterol medicine. To make a long story short. I have almost become totally crippled, for 15 years now. It has destroyed my life, and I’ve been to all kind of doctors even the Mayo Clinic. I’ve only had one doctor say that they believe high cholesterol medicine could do that. I’m in chronic pain all the time due to this killer medicine. I take fish oil, and unscented garlic everyday ad my cholesterol hasn’t gone up any.
    Thank You.,

  6. db

    I am also diabetic and have arthritis from neck to ankles, half due to injury, and the other half heredity from my dear mother. More than one doctor had insisted I go on statins. But first I did research on the side effects and didn’t like what I read.
    As a diabetic I am prone to muscle cramps, particularly in the legs. Due to pressure from my doctor (who is no longer my doctor) I did try simvastatin for a short time, but it increased my already problematic leg cramps. I dropped the statins and have been taking Centrum Specialist Heart and my cholesterol levels seem to be very good. I have a very finely balanced potassium/calcium chemical system and if I eat something with one, must make sure I eat something with the other or I have a leg cramp, usually at night. I found that if I do nothing about the leg cramp it just keeps getting worse and worse.
    But if I drink a small 4 oz can of low-sodium V8 juice and take one extra strength Tums, my leg cramp is gone within 5 minutes because it puts those electrolytes back in balance. I can’t take magnesium as it gives me diarrhea and I can’t take niacin. Even my hands will cramp up. I should tell you that I am 68 and female. Good luck in your situation.

  7. SWO

    My personal experience with NIACIN was extreme night time lower leg and foot cramps, throughout the day sharp joint pain (as if bone on bone were touching) along with muscular weakness walking and use of my hands.
    When I made the connection that these new problems were related to the NIACIN things calmed down after I stopped taking. I do suffer from some arthritis.
    I am not in any wise educated in biology or medicine but live by moderation, eat “real” foods and no alcohol consumption. Niacin was recommended at a health food store to improve circulation.
    I enjoy reading the advice on the People’s Pharmacy website. Thank you for making me an advocate for natural health and consider the use of pharmaceuticals before exhausting all other options.
    People’s Pharmacy response: Thanks for reporting your experience. Although we sometimes suggest niacin for cholesterol-lowering in people who don’t tolerate statins, niacin itself can have side effects. That’s always important to remember. Now that cholesterol has lost its luster as the main risk factor for heart disease, people may be less eager to take a drug to lower it.

  8. Dakota

    I have tried 3 different statins at different dosages. I can not take statins. What I do take is Red Yeast Rice (supposedly has some statins in it but I have NO side effects.) I take 1200mg twice a day. I also take Ubiquinol, 200mg a day. My LDL was lowered by 40 points within 6 months. I do not eat meat.

  9. GRD

    For two years I took Simvastatin to lower my cholesterol which it did but after stopping statins for more that two years now I still have some lingering side affects. I read Dr Duane Graveline’s piece “A case for low dose statins” and thought I would give it a try as reports that very low doses have no side affects.
    I have been taking 2.5mg of lipitor generic for 10 weeks now and you would not believe the results.
    Total dropped from 210 to 154 and LDL dropped from 123 to 70. HDL remained about the same.
    A question for PP: As I understand it, inflammation in the arteries causes the body to produce more LDL to try and repair the inflammation causing a build up that becomes plaque. It is known that statins cans also reduce inflammation in the arteries. The problem of course that the side effect of high doses can destroy you.
    Is it true then that very small doses of statins reduces the inflammation resulting in lower cholesterol produced by the body? This makes sense to me but I am not a medical man. Very low doses seem to have no side effects either that I can detect so far.
    I could not get an answer from my Dr. so I though I would go to the most knowledgeable people like PP.

  10. ed thomas

    Metamucul with psillium lowered my cholesterol and helped other ways also. Plus, it’s inexpensive. This was recommended by my doctor. Statins make me sick.

  11. jk

    I’m 67 I run 4 miles 3 times a week, my cholesterol for the last 2 years has been 227 and 226 respectively. My trigs. went down from 147 to 47 in one year. I was very disappointed when I learned that my cholesterol only dropped a point. My doc. put me on Lipitor I’ve taken it only 3 days and don’t like how I feel I’m very sensitive to any kind of meds. So today I’ve decided I’m done with meds. I’m going to try to continue watching my diet and see where that takes me. I’d rather run than become a healthy vegetable.

  12. Marcia J.

    I am very excited about the web sight. Great help and answers. I can’t take statins due to leg pain I have tried 3 statins all the results are the same leg pain. I am 71 years old and a type 2 diabetic. My over all cholesterol is 203, so my Dr. wants me on Lipitor no way. He said Fish oil will not help. I need to lose weight, but I have my sugar under control. My Dr. is just about statins nothing else. I am going to try the suggestions on this sight, I go back to my Dr. in July. Wish me luck.

  13. Jessica

    I too was on zocor for a time period. I was 23 when I was put on it for borderline cholesterol and I felt as though I was losing my mind and my body was melting down. The pain in my muscles was almost unbearable and the brain fog was debilitating. Simple things like remembering where I put my keys or what I had just put in my cart became enormous tasks.
    I became irritable and angry with my husband who had nothing to do with it. I am sure that it was just because of the annoyance the brain fog was causing. We had put ourselves on a weight loss plan which included going to the gym three times a day and the idea of even moving a muscle to get up to go to the gym was like moving a mountain. I came home from working 8 hour shifts at a manual labor job and slept. No cleaning happened, certainly no school work happened. I payed no attention to how I looked and then after a bit I paid no attention to going to work because it hurt.
    I was on zocor for about two months and decided I no longer needed to feel like this anymore and stopped taking it. My cholesterol is now well passed borderline and over high so I am back at the doctors again. However I have a feeling if he trys to put me on a statin again I am going to tell him which bridge to jump off of and find a new doctor.

  14. zambra

    I agree with riv, all people are different, we all cant have the same level of chlosterol!
    Eat healthy, excercise, we are all “going over” at some state.

  15. O.G.

    Recently, my doctor (knowing there was no way I was going to take a statin) prescribed Welchol when my cholesterol test–the new, very sophisticated one, probably designed to find more ways to prescribe more drugs–showed a slight elevation in certain particles indicating my LDL was up. I was skeptical, but Welchol seemed pretty innocuous, so I agreed to try it.
    I took it for approximately one month, and noticed I was growing slightly constipated as time went on. This continued until, after three days of no movement, I spent one hour–yes, sixty minutes–in the bathroom trying to get rid of what felt like hardened cement, stuck sideways. The misery of that hour is beyond description.
    Afterwards, I went to my intellectual default mechanism, the Internet, and discovered that one use of Welchol is for diarrhea, which I don’t have.
    Welchol has now joined the Ghost of Christmas past in my repertoire of “remedies.” I never want to experience THAT pain again, and will take my chances–naturally–with the cholesterol question.
    P.S.: Within two days of discontinuing the Welchol, everything was back to normal.

  16. riv

    I have no idea why you are all trying to reduce your cholesterol. You’ve completely fallen for the lie that cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease.
    I am 70. My total cholesterol is 12 – 14 mmol. I have no cardiovascular disease.
    Even if I do begin to develop it, so WHAT? After 70 we’re at risk of dying of any number of things. It’s inevitable you know. Why should I risk my HEALTH because of some doctor’s ignorance and ego?

  17. Judith C.

    A few years ago (at age 65) I had high cholesterol and knew I could not tolerate statin drugs. I was told about Dr. Esselstyn’s book, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”. I followed his low-fat, plant based diet and for the past 3 years my cholesterol numbers have been perfect and I feel great! It is a very healthy plan and he includes delicious, easy to prepare recipes.

  18. STEVE

    Age 74. Was on lovastatin for many years. My doctor kept me on I even though I complained about aches and pains. I have a different doctor now. She took me off of lovastatin for two weeks and the pains went away. Then tried crestor. Pains came back. Now off of crestor and I am on zetia for two weeks. Will have my levels checked in a month. I hope it is beneficial. By the way, I eat a horrible diet of unhealthy foods [chocolates, other candy, ice cream, etc] and stubbornly will not change if I can avoid changing.
    As a side note, zetia is expensive. I have recently ordered it from Canada as a generic. Three month supply is half the cost. I hope it is quality.

  19. sd

    Will Zetia help lower cholesterol and Triglycerides? I can’t take Statins.

  20. KLC

    After about 10 years on Lipitor, I developed muscle weakness and then debilitating muscle cramps. I could not get up from a chair, walk on the treadmill or ride my bike, especially up a hill. I tried almost every other statin drug with little or no improvement. My primary referred me to a neurologist who put me on a cocktail of vitamin supplements which had helped many of her patients to tolerate statins. I was not as fortunate as I still could not take the medication.
    So, for the past three years, I have not been on any statin and my lipid numbers were not in the normal range. I was recently referred to a Lipidoligist (spelling?), who has successfully helped approximately 90 percent of his statin intolerant patients to lower their lipids. I am currently taking and tolerating 2.5 mg of Crestor every OTHER day. Total cholesterol went from 240 to 190, and LDL dropped from 140 to 103.
    I’m pleased as punch! I also take fish oil, CoQ10, slo niacin, and eat all the suggested cholesterol lowering foods.

  21. s fox

    I was having the same problems but mostly with the bottoms of my heels. It got to the point where I could not walk. I would get out of the car and try to step down and nearly fall. Needed help to get to my house. The pain was unbearable and left me in tears more times than I care to say.
    I was on Pravastatin at the time and my doctors swore that this could not happen because of the statin drug. I insisted that I had to try something and I stopped the meds. Within two weeks, I was walking at our local flea market with my husband…..no pain. I no longer felt like an old, crippled invalid.
    Doctor checked my cholestrol numbers and they were thru the roof, way over 300. He insisted I start back on my meds, scared me so badly, seeings that I had already had a heart attack, that I went back on pravastatin. Needless to say, no more flea markets.
    Please advice me as to what else I can do, I’m only 61 and I don’t feel that I’m done yet.
    thank you so much
    So sorry you have been caught in such a bind. We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control & Heart Health with lots of options.
    You may also find our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy of value since it has a whole chapter on this topic.
    We don’t understand why so many doctors believe that statins are the only way to control cholesterol and lower heart risk. For those that can handle such drugs without side effects, terrific. For those who experience pain or mental fogginess, there are alternatives. There are other medications and many natural ways to protect the heart.

  22. MR

    When I learned about the hormone leptin, and the five rules of the leptin diet, I cut out all snacks. My last blood test showed my triglycerides were below the low end of the range. I’ve also started taking the enzyme nattokinase, which I believe goes a long way to keep arteries clear. As far as diet goes, from what I’ve read it’s mainly important to control refined carbohydrates, and “healthy fats” are extremely important to include.

  23. Don

    I would encourage the original questioner to not consider a total cholesterol number of 230 as “too high.” A few years ago that would have been considered normal. Please go to the National Cholesterol Education website (part of the NIH) and use the risk assessment feature.
    My wife is a gym rat and swims a total of two miles per week. Eats like a rabbit, and has a risk factor of 3%. Did not like the multiple side effects of the various statins she had previously taken for ten years, so weaned herself off them. By the time she was down to 5mg two side effects (insomnia and joint pain) had disappeared. Two more have now gone, and she is hoping for two more (particularly the lichen planus) to go.
    BTW, her current TG averages 77, HDL averages 80, but the total chol. averages 310.

  24. fbl

    The secret for lowering my hubby’s cholesterol about 100 points was to eliminate all unnatural oils. I wouldn’t allow him to take the meds and played around with different ideas. I’d been brainwashed about using the vegetable oils years ago and they made his numbers worse.
    Finally I decided we would go all natural. I’d hoped that adding all these saturated oils would raise my number (they didn’t) and lower his-they did!
    We use only organic oils-coconut, palm, olive, butter and regular rice bran oil. I also save the drippings from our organic bacon to use in cooking. I make our mayonnaise using almond oil or other natural oils such as avocado. I have a wand blender that makes it easy to whip up the mayo in a jar.
    The other benefits of eating these natural oils is that it does wonders for our skin. I’m 66 and people often comment on my skin. I don’t use commercial creams either. I use one from Tropical Traditions that uses coconut oil as a base.

  25. CLZ

    I have the same problems, not as pronounced, with simvastatin. I also have arthritis in my hips and my knees so, I am ambivalent about the culprit. I was told to take CoQ10 to compensate. I would like to know :
    – Is CoQ10 a good idea?
    – Is red yeast rice a possible alternative?
    – Is no flush niacin as good as regular as niacin ?
    Thank you very much.

  26. JLM

    I have not been able to tolerate statins, even red yeast rice, because of muscle cramps. What do you think about Sytrinol or sterols for reducing cholesterol? Can you recommend a brand of these that might have active ingredient and is safe?

  27. Sunny H.

    You might suggest CQ10 along with statins. It helps with the muscle pains and cramps. I heard about this hint a few years back.

  28. John

    I too had muscle and joint pain taking Lipitor. My endo Doc told me to stop the Lipitor for a month and see how it went. No dramatic change but I was more flexible and not as stiff. I have since started turmeric and tart cherry juice. Both seemed to help.

  29. cpmt

    How can I lower my triglycerides naturally? what herbs or supplements, or foods can help?

  30. Ellen

    I also had bad side effects from statins. I regularly lifted weights and could no longer lift the bar above my head. I added stanols/sterols to my diet for 6 weeks and had cholesterol rechecked. My numbers dropped over 40 points for total and LDL. I used Kashi Heart to Heart crackers (7/day), Minuted Maid Heartwise orange juice (1/2 cup per day) and Centrum Specialist Heart vitamins daily to get the phytosterols.

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