While many people take statins to protect their heart health, these drugs often are misunderstood — especially when it comes to the safety of these life-saving medicines.
Here are nine common myths about statins and the real truth about them:
Myth 1: Statins will hurt your ability to exercise
Statins and exercise are a powerful combination that can help preserve your heart health. Most people are not affected by statins when they exercise. However, up to 10 percent of patients do have some muscle pain and weakness with statins. If you think you are part of this group and that your statins are making you more achy than usual after a workout, ask your doctor about changing the type of statin you are taking.
Myth 2: Statins will cause muscle damage and hurt your heart
Statins have been tested in more than 1 million patients and overwhelmingly, research shows they do not cause heart damage. While statins don’t damage your heart, they can cause mild muscle ache for a small number of people. Even more rarely, statins can cause severe muscle pain — which is a sign to talk to your doctor, who will have you stop your statins immediately. In either case, you should tell your doctor if you are feeling muscle pain or weakness.
Myth 3: You should avoid statins if you have diabetes
People with diabetes benefit the most from statins, which reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and death. While statins may increase blood sugars, this does not offset the overall benefit that statins provide. If you take statins, be sure to monitor your sugars, watch your diet and include regular exercise in your routine.
Myth 4: Statins cause cognitive dysfunction or dementia
On the contrary, recent studies show that statins create a protective effect from cognitive dysfunction or dementia with long-term use.
In 2012, the FDA changed the drug label for statins to include a warning: Memory loss and confusion have been reported with statin use. These reported events were generally not serious and went away once the drug was no longer being taken, but confusion on this issue remains. More recent studies have looked at dementia and cognitive changes and found that statins may be beneficial and can prevent dementia – especially with long-term use.
Myth 5: Natural supplements like red yeast rice are safer than taking a statin
Doctors don’t prescribe supplements in place of statins for a reason: No controlled or reliable studies have proven that supplements prevent heart disease. Because statins are medicine, they have to prove their efficacy. Supplements do not under current federal law. Supplements are not regulated and tested the way drugs must be before doctors can prescribe them. In addition, supplements vary greatly in their strength and they can contain ingredients that are not listed in the label. Remember: Don’t mistake something billed as “natural” for safe.
Myth 6: Being statin-intolerant means you will never be able to take a statin
Research conducted by Cleveland Clinic’s Preventive Cardiology Department has found that most people can tolerate statins either by changing the medication type or by staggering their doses. Don’t give up on this life-saving medicine: Work with a specialist to find the right drug and the best dose for you.
Myth 7: Statins cause cataracts
A recent observational study — which does not offer the same high level of proof as a double-blind study — suggested an increased risk of cataracts. However, more studies are needed. There is no definitive evidence that statins cause cataracts. But there is ample proof that statins help prevent heart disease. It’s important to note there are possible side effects and risks with every medicine you take. You need to follow up and work with your doctor to achieve the best results.
Myth 8: Everyone should take statins
Statins are the treatment of choice for people with high cholesterol and those with coronary heart disease. You should only take statins if you need them. Statins also benefit the blood vessel lining, reduce cell damage from oxidation and keep blood platelets from clumping, which reduces the risk of a blood clot.
Myth 9: Older adults do not benefit from statins
Older adults can benefit from statins depending on their life expectancy and the likelihood of achieving a true benefit with this therapy. Diet and exercise are important parts of risk factor management and should be continued while on statin therapy. While some people are able to achieve their goals through strict diet alone, many will need to take a statin to meet their LDL goals and reduce the risk of progression of heart disease.