Which would you prefer – taking medications or changing your lifestyle? Or would you prefer to take the pills and then be able to do what you want? I personally don’t like to take medications and have been fortunate not to have been prescribed any for a long period of time. I have always trusted that if I took good care of my body, it would do what I needed it to do. So far, that has worked.
So it really interested me to learn that many people who are prescribed statins – medications designed to lower high levels of bad cholesterol (the LDL version), thus reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and heart attacks – are not making some of the lifestyle choices that could help them lower bad cholesterol levels naturally.
A new study out of the University of California, Los Angeles looked at the trends between statin users and people who don’t use these drugs as far as their caloric and fat intake. The study involved 27,996 adults from the United States who were 20 years of age or older. As part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2010, these participants were asked to describe their intake of calories as well as fats over a 24-hour period. The researchers then analyzed these diets looking at participants’ use of statin medications and body mass index (BMI) changes.
The researchers’ analysis found that participants who used statins reported significantly less caloric intake in 1999-2000. However, this difference diminished over the following six years. In comparison, participants who didn’t use statin drugs were found to have a consistent intake of calories and fat over the same period. The researchers also found that while participants who used statins were less fat when the study started in 1999-2000, their fat intake increased by 14.4 percent and their body mass intake increased as well. Furthermore, participants who used statins had a faster increase in their body mass index than participants who didn’t use statins.
The researchers said their analysis suggests that statin users seemed to be less strict in controlling their intake of calories and fats. However, some people don’t agree. “We’ve no idea whether this is actually true of this population, let alone individuals within it,” said Dr. Richard Lehman, an English general practitioner, in a blog for the BMJ Group. “It certainly isn’t true for me. I’ve always just eaten what I enjoy: I just need more exercise.”
While I appreciate Mr. Lehman's viewpoint (and realize that exercise makes a difference in helping maintain healthy cholesterol levels), it does seems that people may be eating more of the foods that raise cholesterol and less of the ones that can make a healthy distance. For instance, red meat, milk and dairy products as well as coconut and palm oils can boost harmful LDL levels due to their saturated fat content. Additionally, trans fats that are used to solidify margarines and shortening also can cause LDL levels to jump while also lowering the “good” cholesterol levels.
Foods that can help lower cholesterol include oatmeal, oat bran, whole grains, beans, eggplant, okra, nuts, vegetable oils, apples, grapes, strawberries, pears, prunes, citrus foods, soy, fatty fish (such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon and halibut), walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, olive oil, fish oil supplements and fiber supplements. Additionally, foods that are fortified with sterol and supplements – such as margarine, granola bars, and orange juice – also can help lower the body’s cholesterol levels. These foods have one or more of the following that promote healthy cholesterol levels: (1) soluble fiber that binds with cholesterol and then drag it out of the body before it can enter the blood stream; (2) polyunsaturated fats that can help lower LDL; or (3) sterols and stanols that stop cholesterol absorption.
Need another reason to add the healthy foods to your diet and limiting the unhealthy ones? A good diet can help lower your need to take statins. That’s especially important since statins can have side effects such as muscle pain (including soreness, tiredness or weakness), muscle damage, liver damage, digestive issues (gas, nausea, diarrhea or constipation), a rash, skin flushing, an increased blood sugar or type 2 diabetes, and neurological side effects (memory loss or confusion).
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
American Heart Association. (2013). Cholesterol.
Harvard Medical School. (2009). 11 foods that lower cholesterol.
Lehman, R. (2014). Richard Lehman's journal review -- 29 April 2014. BMJ Group.
Mayo Clinic. (ND). Cholesterol: Top 5 foods to lower your numbers.
Mayo Clinic. (ND). Statin side effects: Weigh the benefits and risks.
Sugiyama, T., et al. (2014). Different time trends of caloric and fat intake between statin users and nonusers among US adults. JAMA Internal Medicine.
Published On: April 28, 2014