Q. Six years ago my doctor prescribed Lipitor to control my cholesterol. I was switched to simvastatin the last few years.
Over that time I have gained weight and there is something wrong with my muscles. My legs have no strength and it is a struggle to get off the sofa. My brain feels fuzzy, I have memory problems and my doctor says my blood sugar is climbing.
I never had a heart problem, just high cholesterol. I am convinced the statins are causing me trouble. Is there any way to get my cholesterol down without feeling like I have been run over by a truck?
A. People on statins often exercise less, perhaps because of muscle pain, weakness and fatigue (JAMA Internal Medicine, online, June 9, 2014). There is also evidence that statins can raise blood sugar levels (BMJ, online, July 17, 2014).
Doctors often point out that people with heart disease deserve the extra protection that only a statin may be able to provide. They are certainly correct that people who have had a heart attack or stent placement do benefit from statins and reduce the risk of another cardiac event. What is far more controversial is the question of whether someone without a heart problem, like you, really benefits from long-term statin therapy, especially if side effects like muscle weakness limit mobility.
Both diabetes and exercise reduction are major risk factors for heart disease. To help you lower your cholesterol with non-drug approaches, we are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health with foods and supplements that can be used to get cholesterol down. If that is your major objective, natural approaches can be surprisingly effective.
One reader, Laura E., was able to get her LDL cholesterol down from 155 to 111 within five weeks of making dramatic changes to her diet. Here is what Laura did:
- Avoided spikes in blood sugar
- Eliminated refined carbohydrates
- Ate a high-protein breakfast
- Substituted olive oil for other fats
- Added soluble fiber to meals other than breakfast
- Focused on Fish
- Drank green tea
- Consumed other antioxidants
- Stopped eating before bed
Laura was kind enough to provide more details about each of these dietary changes. We have included them in our book, Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy.