What is cholesterol? When present in the right amounts, it is a substance that the body uses in protecting the nerves and tissues and also helps in the production of certain hormones. Cholesterol is obtained from foods such as eggs, meat and dairy. Too much of this however, causes a negative impact on your health such as blockage of arteries, heart attacks etc. If you have LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, you are advised to reduce the levels either with a good diet and exercise regime or, if this proves unsuccessful, resort to medications. Triglycerides and LDL will decrease if the HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or the “good” cholesterol is increased. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding cigarette smoke, getting physical activity, eating a low fat diet and restricted alcohol intake are quite essential when dealing with cholesterol. If even after a year of making these lifestyle changes, no results are seen then medications are opted for. However, these medications aren’t the safest bet. They have some serious side effects too when used for prolonged periods. Read more to understand further.
Side Effects Of Cholesterol Medication
There are 5 kinds of medications for cholesterol lowering. They are:
Statins (such as Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor etc) are reductase inhibitors of the enzyme HMG-CoA. The function of this reductase enzyme is to produce more cholesterol. Hence, statins are introduced to block the activity of this enzyme and reduce cholesterol production. When cholesterol is lowered, the liver makes more LDL receptors which attract particles in the blood to reduce to amount of LDL in the bloodstream. These drugs also remove cholesterol buildup from your arteries (blood vessels). The main side effects of this family of medicines include nausea, stomach pain, cramps, muscle soreness, constipation and, in some cases, extreme diarrhea leading to dehydration. Allergies to grapefruit are also known.
Resins/ Bile Acid Sequestrants
Resins (like Colestid, Prevalite, Questran etc) are given to patients dealing with high cholesterol. The body uses cholesterol to make bile, which is essential in digestion. These medicines (resins) bind to the bile so that it cannot be used in digestion. Therefore the liver produces more bile. This works its way through the problem as more the bile produced, more is the cholesterol used and hence less cholesterol is circulated in the blood. However, the side effects of these medications include bloating, gas formation & constipation and, in worst cases, levels of triglycerides are increased.
Medicines such as Niacor, Nicolar, Slo-Niacin are also administered to people faced with high cholesterol. Niacin or Nicotinic acid is infact a form of Vitamin B. The function of this medicine is to slow down the liver’s production of certain chemicals that make LDL cholesterol. It can also lower triglycerides and increase HDL consequently. Despite all this, the usage of these medicines is discouraged because they cause flushing of the face and neck, dizziness, nausea, high blood sugar and stomach ulcers.
Fibric Acid Derivatives (FAD)
FAD (like Atromid-S, Lopid, Tricor etc) or fibrates are used to lower triglycerides levels in the blood. The function of fibrates is to break down particles that constitute the triglycerides and make them useful elsewhere in the body. When this happens, LDL decreases and more good cholesterol is made. Side effects of this medication are: nausea, stomach cramps and gallstones.
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors
Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors (like Zetia etc) are used to lower levels of LDL. This medicine when taken with a statin works in the digestive tract. It reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed from the foods ingested. With this type of medications, maintaining a healthy diet is also necessary. But these drugs have some serious side effects like stomach pains, tiredness and muscle aches. Combinationdrugs cause gas, cramps, weakness and pains.
Before you resort to medications, consider the side effects of cholesterol medications closely and start your dosage only after prior consultation with a reputed doctor.