Statins: How the drug prevents heart attacks and strokes
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Statins are a group of medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol clings to the inside of your artery walls, thereby raising your risk of heart disease. Statins are therefore to be welcomed. That is not to say the drugs are entirely benign.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs interact with specific foods, giving rise to dangerous side effects.
Surprisingly, statins can interact with two seemingly healthy dietary components: pectin and oat bran.
Pectin is a soluble fibre found in most plants. It is most abundant in apples and plums.
Oat bran, which is made from the outer shell of the oat kernel, is also high in soluble fibre.
According to US-based health body St. Luke’s Hospital, “fibre in the form of pectin (from fruit) and oat bran reportedly reduces the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol-lowering medications known as ‘statins'”.
The health body says this effect has been observed on the following statins:
- Lovastatin (Mevacor)
The result of this interaction could lead to a “decreased effectiveness of these medications”, it warns.
Indeed, this finding is consistent with a review of the literature published in the open source journal Europe PMC.
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In the review, the researchers said the “consumption of pectin or oat bran together with Lovastatin reduces absorption of the drug”.
The most well-documented dietary interaction with statins is grapefruit juice.
“Grapefruit juice can affect some statins and increase your risk of side effects,” warns the NHS.
The health body continues: “A doctor may advise you to avoid it completely or only consume small quantities.”
The doctor will also ask you how much alcohol you drink before prescribing statins, it adds.
“People who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol are at increased risk of getting more serious side effects.”
Pros and cons
Many people who take statins experience no or very few side effects.
The risks of any side effects also have to be balanced against the benefits of preventing serious problems.
A review of scientific studies into the effectiveness of statins found around one in every 50 people who take the medicine for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke, as a result.
The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you’re taking.
It’s run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
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