Statin medications have been at the heart of cardiovascular healthcare for decades. Since they were developed in the 1980s, statins have become the most prescribed medications in the country, with more than 40 million Americans taking them.
But are statins right for you? And what exactly do they do? We’re breaking down everything you need to know, including Lifeforce’s approach to this life-changing treatment option.
What Are Statins?
Contrary to popular belief, statins aren’t just one drug. “They refer to a group of medications that end in ‘statin’ such as Rosuvastatin, Atorvastatin, and Simvastatin,” explains Dr. Vinita Tandon, Lifeforce’s Medical Director and a board certified endocrinologist. “Statins are lipid-lowering agents that reduce total cholesterol and LDL (known as ‘bad’ cholesterol), and may raise HDL (“good cholesterol”).
A brief explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that your body makes, but is also found in foods like meat, eggs, and cheese. Total cholesterol is the total amount in your blood, which includes both LDL and HDL.
LDL (which stands for low-density lipoprotein) carries cholesterol throughout the bloodstream. HDL (high-density lipoprotein), on the other hand, takes cholesterol out of the bloodstream and back to the liver to be recycled and eliminated from the body. (You can learn more about the different types of cholesterol here.)
“Keeping your cholesterol in check is important because having high levels of LDL is a risk factor for developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and early death,” says Dr. Tandon.
In fact, numerous studies show that LDL plays a major role in predicting cardiovascular risk. A study in Circulation found that among low-risk individuals with no history of heart problems, high LDL levels were associated with a 50% to 80% increased risk of death from heart disease.
That may sound scary, but take heart: You can take proactive steps to prevent these issues. “By keeping cholesterol levels down, we mitigate this risk significantly,” says Dr. Tandon.
That’s where statins come in.
How Do Statins Work?
Protecting the heart actually begins in the liver. “Statins reduce the liver's production of cholesterol, as well as help the liver remove and uptake cholesterol that’s in the bloodstream,” Dr. Tandon explains. “The net effect is lowering cholesterol levels.”
In addition to reducing total and LDL cholesterol, statins also improve other key cardiovascular biomarkers such as triglycerides, apolipoprotein B (ApoB), and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), according to Dr. Tandon.
A 2023 study from Stanford University dug even deeper into how statins work their magic. Researchers examined how statins impacted gene expression. They found that statins reduce the expression of genes that lead to mesenchymal cells in the blood vessels. These types of cells make tissues stiffer, so they can’t relax or contract effectively, which strains the heart.
Are Statins Right for You?
Your primary care physician or Lifeforce clinician can help you determine if you’re a good candidate for statins. “They are best for anyone who is at moderate to high risk for developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years, for anyone who has preexisting atherosclerosis, and/or who has already experienced a cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr. Tandon.
You may not be a candidate if you have liver disease or certain muscle conditions. Dr. Tandon warns that women who are nursing or might be pregnant should take statins with caution and only if the benefits outweigh the risks, as determined by a physician.
For most people, “statins are very well tolerated,” Dr. Tandon says. “There have been some reports of muscle aches, change in cognition, slight increase in blood sugars, and changes in liver enzymes. Headaches, fatigue and nausea may also occur. In general, most side effects tend to happen at higher doses than lower doses, and with older generation statins.”
The Lifeforce Approach to Statins
At Lifeforce, we offer Rosuvastatin, which has a better side effect profile compared to other statins on the market, says Dr. Tandon. It can be taken any time of day — with or without food.
We only provide prescriptions to members who meet specific criteria. “Our approach is that we will prescribe judiciously,” says Dr. Tandon. “We will calculate the person’s risk of developing ASCVD in the next 10 years. Using that score, plus their biomarkers and family and medical history, will make the determination.” (The Lifeforce Membership’s at-home blood test measures more than 40 key biomarkers, including HDL, LDL, total cholesterol, A1C, ApoB, a full hormone panel, and more.)
With your Lifeforce Membership, your clinician and certified health coach will help you find the best combination of pharmaceutics, nutraceuticals, and lifestyle habits to support your unique wellness needs and goals.
Not a member yet? Start your journey to living stronger, longer here.
Want to learn more about statins? Get more details here.
This article was medically reviewed by:
Vinita Tandon, MD, ABIM Board Certified in Endocrinology and Metabolism
Regina S. Druz, MD, MBA, FACC, ABIM Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner