"Why should I take a cholesterol-lowering drug if I don't have high cholesterol?" I’ve heard that question often since February, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of rosuvastatin — a statin, or cholesterol-lowering drug — to help prevent heart disease and stroke in people with normal cholesterol levels.
The FDA's decision came in the wake of findings from a five-year study that looked at men 50 and up, and women 60 and up, who had normal cholesterol levels but high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). People with high levels of CRP have a greater risk of heart attacks, strokes, autoimmune disorders, and other maladies.
The study found that people who took rosuvastatin ( brand name Crestor) for about two years had a 44 percent lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with those who did not take the drug. The findings were so compelling that the trial was cut short — and the remainder of eligible adults were offered statin treatment. That led to the FDA's revised recommendations on rosuvastatin.
Yet the decision has sparked controversy. Statins are quite effective at clearing lousy cholesterol — LDL — from the bloodstream. But statin therapy alone does little to raise heart-protecting cholesterol — HDL — and comes with its own risks, including severe muscle pain and a 9 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Many of my patients have reduced their cholesterol levels (and blood-sugar levels) without the use of drugs by adhering to a diet low in saturated fat and by exercising regularly.
Statins remain a good option for people who, despite a sensible diet and ample exercise, can't lower their LDL. But statins or no, a healthy lifestyle is the best way to fortify your heart.
"Feel Your Best" by Dr. Mehmet Oz appears in each issue of AARP The Magazine.