Statins, are a class of medications commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol levels, play a crucial role in improving vascular health. They primarily target elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Apart from lowering high “bad” cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol, statins have been shown in many massive studies to improve your vascular health, reduce progression of atherosclerosis and make our arterial treatments last longer. Whilst all medications (including paracetamol) have risks, don’t believe the “bad press” around statins and don’t be afraid of them.
Here’s how the use of statins can improve vascular health:
1. Lowering LDL Cholesterol: High levels of LDL cholesterol contribute to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. These plaques can narrow and harden the arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Statins work by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, which is involved in the production of cholesterol in the liver. By reducing LDL cholesterol levels, statins help slow down the progression of atherosclerosis and prevent new plaque formation.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Effects: In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects on the blood vessel walls. Chronic inflammation plays a significant role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. By reducing inflammation, statins help stabilize vulnerable plaques, making them less likely to rupture and cause blockages.
3. Enhancing Endothelial Function: The endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels. Healthy endothelial function is essential for maintaining proper blood flow, preventing blood clot formation, and regulating blood pressure. Statins have been shown to improve endothelial function by promoting the release of nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes blood vessels and enhances blood flow.
4. Reducing Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between harmful reactive oxygen species and the body’s antioxidant defenses. Oxidative stress can damage blood vessels and contribute to atherosclerosis. Statins have antioxidant properties that help reduce oxidative stress, thereby protecting the blood vessels from damage.
5. Stabilizing Plaques: Vulnerable plaques, which have a higher risk of rupture, are characterized by a thin fibrous cap covering a lipid-rich core. Statins have been shown to stabilize these plaques by thickening the fibrous cap, making them less likely to rupture and cause sudden blockages.
6. Reducing Blood Clot Formation: Statins can influence the function of platelets, small blood cells that play a role in clot formation. By reducing platelet activation and aggregation, statins help prevent the formation of blood clots within blood vessels, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
It’s important to note that while statins offer several benefits for vascular health, they may also have potential side effects. Common side effects include muscle pain, digestive issues, and an increased risk of diabetes in some individuals. However, these side effects are generally outweighed by the significant cardiovascular benefits that statins provide.
If you have arterial disease or have had arterial interventions such as stents or a bypass, irrespective of your cholesterol levels, in most cases you should be on a statin. Please discuss this with Mr Ponosh or your GP if you have concerns.