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May 06, 2014

Do Cholesterol Meds Excuse Poor Eating Habits?

Statin use gives patients a false sense of security when it comes to diet, study shows.

Many Americans on cholesterol-lowering meds are eating without abandon, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This study tested the theory that cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, give patients a false sense of security when it comes to food choices. Using national survey data, researchers compared the statin-use and dietary habits of U.S. adults from 1999 through 2010. In addition to information regarding the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, almost 28,000 participants provided information about their calorie and fat consumption as well as weight.

After analysis, investigators found that statins may, in fact, sway users to make unhealthier diet choices over time. At the start of the study, statin users had similar eating habits compared to adults not taking cholesterol meds and statin users actually consumed nearly 200 calories less a day than adults not taking cholesterol medication. For adults not taking cholesterol meds, the amount of calories and fat consumed remained the same throughout the decade-long study. But by 2010, the dietary choices made by statin users went downhill. In 2010, statin users consumed significantly more calories and fat than they did just 10 years earlier. Not surprisingly, adults taking cholesterol meds also weighed significantly more in 2010 than they did in 2000.

Based on these findings, authors reinforce the importance of healthy lifestyle choices in conjunction with cholesterol-lowering drugs, if necessary, to control cholesterol. Just because patients are taking drugs that help lower cholesterol does not mean they have a free pass to make unhealthy food choices and skimp on physical activity. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are essential to promoting better health and preventing heart disease. And for the 71 million Americans with high cholesterol, these healthy lifestyle choices are important, regardless of statin use.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are statins?
  • Statins are drugs used to lower cholesterol. They help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol, which can help prevent heart attack and stroke. Statins prevent your body from making new cholesterol and may help reduce the amount of plaque already built up on artery walls.
  • Are statins always used in patients with high cholesterol?

  • Although statins are extremely effective in lowering cholesterol and reducing cardiovascular risk, not all patients may need them. In fact, cholesterol can be effectively lowered in some patients with simple lifestyle changes including exercise and diet.


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Total cholesterol is made up of both HDL ("good" cholesterol) and LDL, the "bad" cholesterol—in addition to triglycerides—that you have to keep low.