Cholesterol lowering medications: Do you really need them

Cholesterol lowering medications are used to decrease high cholesterol in people suffering from hypercholesterolemia. There are statins, fibrates, resins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors.

By decreasing high cholesterol, they can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, blood clots, heart attack and death.

Although they are all effective, each of them works in its own way because of which each of them also has its own benefits and side effects.



Statins decrease production of cholesterol in the liver which makes them very effective, when it comes to lowering LDL cholesterol. They work by blocking HMG-CoA reductase enzyme.

Decrease in LDL cholesterol leads to lower triglyceride levels and higher HDL cholesterol. However, the risk of serious muscle damage or rhabdomyolysis, is the greatest with statins.


Fibrates or fibric acid derivatives are the most useful for lowering triglycerides which leads to increase in HDL cholesterol and to moderate reduction in LDL cholesterol.

They work by breaking down the particles which make triglycerides thereby decreasing their production. Combination of cholesterol lowering medications which includes statins and fibrates can significantly increase the risk of life threatening side effects, such as kidney damage.


Bile acid sequestrants or resins work by binding to the bile thereby preventing the body from using it. The body uses cholesterol to make bile. Bile is a type of acid used in the digestive process.

Since there is not enough bile, the liver increases its production because of which more cholesterol is being used in the process. As a result, cholesterol decreases.


As the name suggests, these drugs inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract, from the foods we eat, by binding to specific protein found in the stomach, intestines and the liver. They are sometimes prescribed in combination with a statins.

Cholesterol absorbtion inhibitors are mainly used to decrease LDL cholesterol in the blood. Among all the cholesterol lowering drugs, the risk of side effects, seems to be the lowest with these ones.


While high cholesterol and high triglycerides can be dangerous, so can low cholesterol and low triglycerides. I experinced this, first hand. Since some of statins and fibrates are very powerful drugs, they can also cause side effects:

  • Muscle pain( myopathy) and muscle damage(rhabdomyolysis)
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver problems or liver damage
  • Anemia
  • Increased risk for developing gallstones
  • High blood glucose levels
  • Stomach pain and diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas and bloating
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Heartburn
  • Hormonal imbalance


You shouldn't take cholesterol lowering drugs with grapefruit, black pepper or piperine extract since they can increase blood levels of these drugs. By doing so, they can cause very serious side effects.

These drugs can also interact with blood thinners, cancer, diabetes, HIV and some medications used to treat the symptoms of dementia.


Although they are very effective, the real question is, do you really need them? Most people can significantly improve their blood lipid values with diet and exercise, alone. Adding few herbs and supplements can speed up the process.

I managed to decrease my cholesterol and triglycerides, drastically, just by sticking to these guidelines. However, even herbs and supplements show to be too much for me, in this case since my cholesterol dropped too low.

Whether you decide to take cholesterol lowering medications, herbs or supplements, consult with your doctor, before taking them. In my case, diet and exercise were more than enough. However, some people maybe won't have that option.

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