Many who wish to lower cholesterol levels are often advised against statins. According to Crosta (2009), “statins are a class of medicines that are frequently used to lower blood cholesterol levels. The drugs are able to block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making cholesterol. Although cholesterol is necessary for normal cell and body function, very high levels of it can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where cholesterol-containing plaques build up in arteries and block blood flow” (Crosta, p. 1).
Several types of statins exist such as atorvastatin, cerivastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, mevastatin, et al. Interestingly, Mevastatin is a naturally occurring statin that is found in red yeast rice. Statins inhibit an enzyme that controls cholesterol production in the liver. The medicines actually act to replace the enzyme HMG-CoA that exists in the liver, thereby slowing down the cholesterol production process (Crosta, 2009).
Because Mevastatin is a naturally occurring statin in red yeast rice, it should be carefully considered for lowering cholesterol. While many reports downplay the problem with statins, a study at the University of California suggests the figure for muscle pain -- the most commonly reported reaction -- was nearer 20 per cent (Waters, 2010).
Muscle aches and pains, and possible liver damage, can be a problem when using statins. But memory loss and nerve damage has also been reported. Muscle pain may occur because statins block the production of co-enzyme Q-10, which is essential for energy production in all muscles. But nerve damage and memory problems may be linked to reduced cholesterol production. Cholesterol is essential to maintain the myelin sheath, which surrounds and protects the nerve cells and is used in the brain to build synapses, which create and store memory (Waters, 2010).
Thus, alternatives to the statins are often sought by people experiencing negative side effects. It should be noted that a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine do support the use of red yeast rice, actually a by-product of cooked rice on which red yeast is grown. The study found that red yeast rice in supplement form was effective in patients who had been unable to take statin drugs because the drugs caused muscle problems. The study also found that that red yeast rice did not cause liver impairment (Garloch, 2010).
The Mevastatin in red yeast rice has caused problems, however. According to Graedon and Graedon (2011) “some people seem especially susceptible to muscle damage from statin-type medications to lower cholesterol. Drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) all can cause muscle pain or even a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis. Red yeast rice also can cause muscle problems”(Graedon & Graedon, p. 4).
For those especially susceptible to muscle damage a high-quality fish oil capsule (1000 mg of EPA, DHA, two or three times daily), or niacin (500mg with a half of baby aspirin twice daily) may help. A healthy diet, of course, is also important, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables,
There is evidence that the dietary supplement coenzyme Q-10 may reduce or prevent side effects caused by statins. In the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine article, 31 patients who were unable to tolerate statins received 1800 mg of red yeast rice twice daily, while another 31 patients received a placebo. This dose of the supplement resulted in therapeutically significant declines in total and LDL cholesterol with no muscle or liver side effects (LipschItz, 2009).
A YouTube video helps explain the use of coenzyme Q-10 when taking statins:
(If considering red yeast rice, 50 mg twice daily--or less--should be a safe alternative for those not overly susceptible to muscle damage.)
Crosta, P. (2009). What are statins? How statins work and the side effects of statins. Medical News Today. Retrieved May, 28, 2009, fromhttp://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8274.php
Garloch, K. (2010, August 31). The good, the bad and the ugly cholesterol. The News & Observer. Raleigh.
Graedon, J., & Graedon, T. (2011, May 8). The people's pharmacy. Richmond Times Dispatch, p. 4.
LipschItz, D. (2009, July 5). Statins are miracle drugs, but for severe side effects. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Little Rock.
Waters, J. (2010, March 30). The other side of statins. Daily Mail. London.