Elevated cholesterol is associated with the number one cause of death in both males and females — cardiovascular disease. About 30 percent of our cholesterol comes from our diet, but about 70 percent is produced internally.
Statins reduce cholesterol by blocking the body's production of cholesterol. Those most likely to benefit from statins are people with preexisting heart disease. Others groups may benefit as well, such as people with diabetes or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Your provider should evaluate your overall risk for cardiovascular disease using an accepted method, such as the one promoted by the National Cholesterol Education Program, and determine whether the benefit of a statin outweighs the risk.
Statins can be lifesaving, but they are not without potential risks. Statins can cause muscle aches, and on rare occasion may cause a potentially fatal form of muscle wasting called rhabdomyolysis. Statins are also associated with a very low risk of liver injury. Some studies have suggested that statins may be associated with a reduction in brain function (for example, memory), but other studies suggest they may actually be helpful in this regard. Lastly, there is a small risk of developing diabetes if you take statins. For example, one study reported that if 255 patients were treated with statins for four years, there would be one extra case of diabetes. Bottom line? Statins are not completely safe, but in many cases may help you to avoid cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in our country.