Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins are a class of drugs that provide a buffer against heart disease – one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Statins have this effect by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver. LDL cholesterol is commonly branded the “bad” cholesterol because it can gum up your arteries. The cholesterol-lowering drug is therefore to be welcomed but they should be used carefully.
Statins can interact with certain dietary decisions and the ones to watch are not obvious.
For example, citrus fruits can interfere with prescription medications that reduce cholesterol, explains the Mayo Clinic.
“Don’t take these interactions lightly. Some can cause potentially dangerous health problems,” the health body warns.
Given the potential risks, it says to “play it safe with prescription drugs”.
What accounts for this effect?
Harvard Health explains: “Certain classes of drugs — most notably statins — are metabolised (broken down) in your intestines by an enzyme called CYP3A, which normally reduces the amount of drug that enters your bloodstream.”
According to the health body, citrus fruits such as grapefruit contain compounds called “furanocoumarins” that stop CYP3A from doing its job.
“As a result, more of the drug is absorbed, making it more powerful than it’s meant to be — even toxic in some cases.”
The health body points out that “not all statins are affected equally by grapefruit juice, so grapefruit fans might want to switch to a statin that’s less affected”.
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It adds: “But if you can’t switch, experts say it’s probably okay to enjoy a small glass.”
Alcohol is another one to watch on statins because it can induce serious side effects.
The NHS says: “The doctor will also ask you how much alcohol you drink before prescribing statins.
“People who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol are at increased risk of getting more serious side effects.”
If you’re prescribed a statin, you may be able to continue drinking alcohol.
However, the NHS says you should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
Alternative ways of lowering high cholesterol
There are two natural ways you can lower your cholesterol levels: overhauling your diet and exercise.
Bupa says to eat more fibre and more wholegrain carbohydrate foods because this can help to lower LDL cholesterol.
“And eat more fruit and vegetables, oats, beans and pulses (for example, lentils and soya).”
Above all else, you should curb your intake of saturated fat.
Bupa explains: “If you eat a lot of saturated and trans fat, it increases how much cholesterol your liver produces, and slows down how quickly it’s removed from your body.”
It’s recommended that all UK citizens do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
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