High cholesterol is determined as total levels that exceed 200 mg/DL. According to the CDC, more than 102 million Americans suffer from this disease. To make matters worse, more than 35 million people have cholesterol levels that exceed 240 mg/DL, which puts them at high risk for heart disease. More than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 60 take medications to lower cholesterol in order to reduce these numbers, but not without unpleasant side effects. Rumors have it that cholesterol lowering drugs can cause things like premature aging, brain damage, and diabetes. The truth is that every medication affects every person differently, but there are some cases of the following occurring in the elderly due to cholesterol-lowering medicine intake.
As the body ages, it changes; this includes the way the body processes medication. Whether the brain, digestive system, or circulatory system stops being able to handle the medication or a reaction is caused by the unpleasant combination of particular drugs that are necessary for proper functioning, it is important to recognize changes and consult with a doctor to find workable solutions.
Cholesterol lowering drugs have a history of causing muscle pain in certain patients, which can lead to aging issues. The pain is called “statin-induced myopathy” and patients who experience it claim that they have not only pain, but also muscle weakness and even cramps. The fact of the matter is, however, it is only people that have a specific variant in the SLC01B1 gene have the muscle myopathy reaction to the cholesterol lowering drugs; all others do not have this issue and therefore do not age due to the use of life-saving statin drugs.
Brain damage might be a severe effect of cholesterol lowering drugs. The truth is that such drugs do have a history of depleting the brain of the cholesterol necessary to create connections between vital nerve cells which help with memory and learning new things. According to Dr. Neel Armen, writing for AARP, the brain holds 25% of the cholesterol in the body, so when that amount is decreased, it could cause memory related issues. Pharmacotherapy published a study in 2009 that stated that 75 percent of people who took statin lowering drugs had memory issues. The same study also reported an improvement in cognitive abilities after patients stopped the consumption of the drugs.
Type 2 diabetes is a serious concern for the elderly, which is why a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and active lifestyle are always prescribed for anyone trying to limit the risk of diabetes. Many people are concerned about the use of cholesterol lowering drugs and the onset of diabetes. According to a 2013 study reported by Canadian researchers Carter et al. in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), however, the risk is only for those who take a specific cholesterol lowering drug called Lipitor. Lipitor has the highest risk of causing diabetes. In the study, 22 percent of the 500,000 people involved in the study had a higher risk of diabetes as a result of the medication. The percentages went down from there, with an 18 percent higher risk for those who took Crestor and a 10 percent higher risk for those who took Zocor.
What the study also reported, however, is that taking statin reducing drugs is more important than not taking them and avoiding the risk of diabetes. Since cholesterol affects the cardiovascular system, it is an important drug to take if diet and lifestyle changes do not have the desired effect on cholesterol levels.
The bottom line is that each person should consult his or her physician about what drugs are right for him or her. A medication that might work without any side effects for one person with high levels of cholesterol may have adverse side effects for someone else, and vice versa. There is no way to predict which drug will work for which patient until a full medical history has been provided and the pros and cons discussed. Of course, the best way for anyone to lower their cholesterol is to have a diet filled with:
- Healthy fat
- Protein-rich, plant based foods
Patients should avoid foods with saturated fats, excessive sugars, and high levels of cholesterol. Patients should also exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight as much as possible.
If cholesterol cannot be lowered through the natural means of good diet and regular exerise, seniors should talk to their doctors about the best choice of medication to lower cholesterol, given the above-named risks (muscle pain, memory loss, and the onset of diabetes). Working together with a doctor will yield the best, most risk-free results.
Administration for Community Living. Brain Health: Medicine, Age, and Your Brain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health. Available at http://www.acl.gov/Get_Help/BrainHealth/docs/MedAgeBrain-FactSheet.pdf. Accessed on June 27, 2016.
Carter, A. A., Gomes, T., Camacho, X., Juurlink, D. N., Shah, b. R., Mamdani, M. M. (May 23, 2013). Risk of incident diabetes among patients treated with statins: population based study. BMJ (346):f2610). Available online at http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/346/bmj.f2610.full.pdf. Accessed on July 1, 2016.
Corliss, Julie. (March 3, 2016). Muscle Problems Caused by Statins: Can a Genetic Test Reveal your Risk? Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. Available at http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/muscle-problems-caused-by-statins-can-a-genetic-test-reveal-your-risk-201603039247. Accessed on June 27, 2016.
Evans, M. A., and Golomb, B. A. (July 2009). Statin-Associated Adverse Cognitive Effects: Survey Results from 171 Patients. Pharmacotherapy, 29(7): 800-811.
Neel, Armen, M.D. (June 2015). 10 Drugs that May Cause Memory Loss. AARP. Available at http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-05-2013/drugs-that-may-cause-memory-loss.html#quest1. Accessed on June 27, 2016.
Steele, Margaret Farley. Could Statins Increase Diabetes Risk? Health Day News. WebMD. Available at http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/news/20130523/could-statins-raise-diabetes-risk?page=2. Accessed on June 26, 2016.