Statins are prescribed for anyone with a greater than 10% risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next ten years. This risk level was recently decreased from 20% to 10% making nearly 4 in 10 adults eligible for treatment. This effectively means every healthy man over 60 and healthy woman over 65 could be offered drugs to cut their cholesterol levels.
While there are clear benefits of taking statins to reduce the risk of heart disease there can be problems. Prescribing statins to those at lower risk may give the illusion of protection and deter people from changing an unhealthy lifestyle. Another problem is the disabling side effects experienced by some taking the drug. These can include muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, tiredness, digestive problems and increase in blood sugar levels.
For those at lower risk who experience unpleasant side effects changes in diet combined with taking herbal medicine could offer an effective alternative approach.
Diet changes should include:
· Reducing saturated fats
· Increasing fish consumption or taking omega 3 fatty acids
· Eating plenty of soluble fiber found in vegetables, fruit, legumes and oats
· Cooking with monounsaturated vegetable oils such as olive oil
· Including nuts such as almonds
· Plant sterols/stanols fortified products which reduce absorption of dietary cholesterol
There are several herbs which have been shown to decrease blood cholesterol levels. Key herbs include garlic, turmeric, globe artichoke and hawthorn berries which decrease synthesis of cholesterol and may also increase the excretion of cholesterol by increasing bile production. These herbs can be combined with saponin containing herbs such as fenugreek and Gymnema, which prevent absorption of cholesterol. Mucilaginous herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow root and psyllium provide a valuable source of soluble fibre which has cholesterol lowering actions.
An selected combination of these herbs together with herbs that strengthen the cardiovascular system could provide a gentle, safe and effect way to decrease blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.