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Living with High Cholesterol

My doctor has just prescribed me a statin to lower my level of bad cholesterol. We hear all kinds of things about this kind of treatment. What are the facts?

Since they became available at the end of the 1980s, the statins have been used as a regular treatment for millions of people, and this class of drugs has contributed to the improvement in life expectancy observed during this time in France and around the world. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated their benefits in patients with and without a history of cardiovascular complications, such as heart attack or stroke.

These drugs act by slowing down the accumulation of cholesterol in the walls of the arteries. This process is called atherosclerosis, and the end result is that the arteries are narrowed and blood can not circulate properly within them. A reduction in the level of LDL cholesterol (known as ‘’bad cholesterol’’) can reduce the frequency of cardiovascular incidents.
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Jean-marc MOURAD

Internal medicine service
Saint-Joseph Hospital

Nevertheless, like any drug, statins as a class can have side effects; these are for the most part not serious, and above all disappear when treatment is stopped. They usually take the form of muscle pain, which generally occurs during the first 3 months of treatment. These pains are fairly characteristic and should not be confused with, for example, the pain of arthritis. If you experience pain that could be due to your treatment, you doctor can change the type or the dosage of the statin in order to eliminate the pain. Statins at high doses and prescribed over long periods of time can also be responsible for a small increase in the appearance of diabetes in patients who are at risk of the disease. To sum up, for most people the benefits of statins largely outweigh their risks. And these benefits are not limited to cardiac health. Cancer specialists are currently very interested in statins due to the increasing evidence that they can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Statins could also even be beneficial in prostate cancer. In practical terms, you can be confident in this class of drugs. If you have any questions or doubts, speak to your doctor, rather than stopping your treatment without his or her knowledge. Don’t forget that it is your health that is on the line.

I noticed that some products at my local supermarket are labelled “low cholesterol”. Does that mean that they are low in fat?

Not necessarily. Some foods labeled “low cholesterol” can contain unhealthy oils high in saturated fats. Moreover, unsaturated fats like vegetable oil can also be high in calories.1