A new study revealed that while statins are the most effective at lowering cholesterol levels, simply changing one's diet can be equally beneficial, too.
Many people turn to supplements to treat high cholesterol because they wish to avoid using prescription medication. Fish oil, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, plant sterols, and red yeast rice are common supplements thought to help lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). However, doctors have been skeptical about the supplements’ efficacy to lower these “bad” cholesterol numbers and it looks like their misgivings have been justified.
A study published by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic compared the effectiveness of supplements against prescription statin drugs and one came out the clear winner. Study participants who received a 5 mg dose of rosuvastatin (brand name Crestor) for 28 days lowered their LDL cholesterol levels by almost 38%. None of the tested supplements listed above showed any significant decrease in LDL when compared to a placebo.
The study included 190 participants between the ages of 40 and 75 who had no history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) but had a higher-than-normal risk of developing it within the next 10 years. Participants had LDL levels between 70 and 189 mg/dL. The supplements they took during the test were known to impact lipid and inflammatory biomarkers yet had no clinical effect on the participants’ LDL levels.
Millions of Americans currently take statins to lower their cholesterol levels, including Crestor, Lipitor, and generic forms of the drugs. They have been proven to lower the risk of having cholesterol-induced heart attacks or strokes, yet many are hesitant to take them. Most cite concerns over troublesome side effects that may include muscle pain, mental fatigue, digestive problems, and rarely, liver damage.
Statins work by blocking a substance the liver needs to make cholesterol. That action causes the liver to remove cholesterol from the blood. That lowers the overall level of cholesterol, making it less likely that the harmful substance will stick to the blood vessel lining and form blockages that lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues.
According to the Mayo Clinic, statins can also increase a person’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes, which comes with its own set of health risks. One of those is ASCVD, so a patient and their doctor must carefully weigh the risks and benefits of taking statins. In most people, the advantages of statins far outweigh the risk of developing higher blood glucose levels.
There is some evidence that taking coenzyme Q10 supplements can help prevent troublesome statin side effects. More testing is needed to verify that it’s helpful. If side effects are a problem, switching statin medications can sometimes help.
The results of this study make it clear that statins are the most effective way to reduce cholesterol levels, but diet and supplements can still be beneficial tools in the pursuit of optimal heart health. Fish oil and other omega-3 supplements provide essential fatty acids that have been shown to moderately reduce inflammation and other factors that contribute to ASCVD development. Dietary sources of omega-3s include fatty fish (salmon, tuna and trout), shellfish (mussels, crabs and oysters) and certain vegetable oils including canola and soy.