How Statins Work

Statins is the name given to a group of medications that help to lower cholesterol. They will normally be prescribed to people who have harmful levels of cholesterol present in their blood, mostly if other methods of controlling cholesterol weren't effective or the individual is at risk of health complications. Statins benefit users by preventing or treating atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries as a result of cholesterol build-up (plaque). Atherosclerosis can eventually lead to cardiovascular problems such as angina, heart attack or stroke.

different statin structures

How do they work?

Statins primarily work by monitoring the production of cholesterol by the liver. They do this by blocking the enzyme in the liver that is responsible for producing cholesterol. The body produces up to 75% of its own cholesterol and the rest is derived from the fats in the foods we consume. If we are consuming more fats than is healthy for us, it results in a surplus of cholesterol being produced, which ultimately leads to excess cholesterol moving around in our bloodstream. Cholesterol that moves around in our blood from the liver is known as LDL or low-density lipoprotein.

Statins block an enzyme known as hydroxy-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase or HMG-CoA reductase and therefore they are also known as HMG-CoA inhibitors. This enzyme plays an important role in the production of cholesterol and if this enzyme isn't able to function like it usually would, production of LDL is slowed down, which consequently leads to an increase in HDL. HDL is also known as 'good cholesterol' because this is cholesterol that is moving from the bloodstream back to the liver, which also reduces LDL levels.

statins help lower LDL cholesterol

When are statins recommended?

Statins may be prescribed to you if you are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease as a result of high cholesterol, even if you are otherwise healthy. You may also be prescribed statins if you've already experienced cholesterol-related complications such as heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease, or if you suffer from diabetes.

What types of statins are there?

There are various different types of statins and they are all available in generic and branded versions. The below statins all work in a similar way to help you better control your cholesterol:

  • Simvastatin (branded as Zocor)
  • Atorvastatin (branded as Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (branded as Crestor)
  • Fluvastatin (branded as Lescol)
  • Lovastatin (branded as Mevacor)
  • Pravastatin (branded as Pravachol)
  • Pitavastatin (branded as Livalo)

One type of statin may be more suitable for you than another, which means that your doctor may recommend an alternative statin if you experience side effects on a particular version.

View medication for high cholesterol

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