Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins provide a bulwark against heart disease. They do this by reducing the production of cholesterol inside the liver. However, you can undermine the effectiveness of your statins by mixing them with certain herbal supplements.
The NHS explains: “St John’s wort, a herbal remedy taken for depression, reduces the amount of atorvastatin [a type of statin] in your blood, so it does not work as well.”
St John’s wort is available as a supplement in teas, tablets, liquids and topical preparations.
“Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking about starting St John’s wort, as it will change how well atorvastatin works,” advises the NHS.
Health body the Mayo Clinic echoes this advice. “Taking St. John’s wort with simvastatin (Zocor, Flolipid) might reduce the drug’s effectiveness.”
The NHS notes that people also tend to take a supplement called CoQ10 with statins.
CoQ10 is a fat-soluble, vitamin-like compound that seems to have many health benefits.
“There’s no clear evidence that taking it at the same time as atorvastatin benefits your health,” notes the NHS.
In fact, There’s not enough information to say that other herbal remedies and supplements are safe to take with atorvastatin.
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They’re not tested in the same way as pharmacy and prescription medicines.
Myths around statins
There are many myths that persist around statins, some of which can be harmful.
Some people who take statins report confusion or memory loss. But because memory issues tend to crop up in middle-aged and older adults (the most common users of statins), it’s hard to tell if the drug, or another problem such as age-related memory loss, might be to blame.
The initial concern arose from a number of self-reported complaints to the FDA, said cardiologist Doctor Christopher Cannon, a Harvard Medical School professor.
“However, many of the reports were from people who took the drug for just one day,” he said, which suggests that the statin wasn’t to blame.
More reliable data come from large studies—one of which included more than 20,000 people—that revealed no effect on thinking and memory caused by statins.
The scant evidence means this worry should not influence your decision to take statins.
Another myth swirls around grapefruit. Grapefruit does contain compounds that alter how your body processes statins.
The compounds, called furanocoumarins, block an enzyme in the intestine that normally breaks down statins (and many other drugs). As a result, more statin gets into the bloodstream, making it more powerful.
Not all statins are affected equally, so grapefruit fans might want to switch to a statin that’s less affected.
But if you can’t switch, a small glass of the juice is probably fine, said Doctor Jorge Plutzky, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and medical editor of Managing Your Cholesterol, /MC.
“The studies showing dangerous effects included very high amounts of furanocoumarins, found in a quart or more of the juice,” he said.
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