As a cardiologist, I recognize that statins can be life-saving medications when used correctly. I also know that, on their own, they’re not a fool-proof guarantee of better outcomes. That’s why a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association is so alarming: Researchers found that people are more likely to give up on healthy eating and exercise after they start statins.
If you have established coronary or vascular disease, or familial hypercholesterolemia, statins can lower your risk of a heart event by lowering cholesterol. But this doesn’t give you license to eat unhealthy foods! Statins don’t override your diet. In fact, it’s been demonstrated that for the same level of cholesterol reduction, RISK reduction benefit is significantly greater when statins are combined WITH a healthy diet. In other words, there’s more to risk reduction than a cholesterol number. The way you get to that number matters as well.
Unfortunately, the new study shows that this “food-too” approach isn’t usually adopted. Researchers surveyed more than 41,000 participants from Finland about their habits and weight over a 13-year period. Participants who took statins gained more weight on average than those who remained statin-free. And their risk of becoming obese skyrocketed: they were 82 percent more likely than their statin-free peers to become obese! Probably from the combination of eating worse and exercising less.
Regardless whether or not they’re on a cholesterol lowering drug, I recommend that ALL of my patients eat a heart-healthy diet. Why? Because if your cholesterol is high and you can reduce it with diet alone, that’s always the better answer. And if you have established coronary or vascular disease or very high cholesterol levels and need statins, eating a nutritious diet will help keep your dose to the lowest level. And why is that important? Because for most people, a lower statin dose means fewer unpleasant side effects.
Plus, skipping out on healthy foods and exercise means you’re missing out on all the side benefits: lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control and weight loss – all of which can help decrease heart-disease risk above and beyond cholesterol reduction. On top of that, If you’re eating a whole food plant based diet like the Mediterrean diet, add longevity, improved brain function and increased physical strength to the list of benefits. Finally – consider immunity. Super important during this pandemic. And just like they do nothing for blood pressure, blood sugar or weight loss, statins do nothing for immunity. Nutrition is where it’s at!
So if you’re a Step One Foods customer, give yourself a big high five! You’re doing something for yourself that no pill can accomplish.
Drugs or no drugs, healthy food truly is the best medicine.