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How Statins Work: June 6, 2014

Twice as many Americans will be eligible for cholesterol-lowering drugs, based on new guidelines from leading heart groups. Known to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, Jeff Steffel is no stranger to statins.

 “I’ve been on statins almost 20 years,” says Steffel.

Along with his doctor, Steffel closely monitors his condition.

 “We look at the levels, I have those checked twice yearly,” says Steffel. “I do have high cholesterol in my family.”

“Statins are medications that have been around for many years now- going on several decades - and they’re really the main therapy to treat high cholesterol,” says Lee Memorial Health System cardiologist Dr. Brian Taschner.

A necessary building block for some hormones, too much cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. Our liver makes all the cholesterol we need, but we also get it through animal-based foods like milk, eggs and meat. Statin drugs help by turning off the body’s natural production.

“They actually prevent cholesterol - prevention from the liver. So they limit the body’s production of cholesterol, they’re also felt to have anti-inflammatory effects and maybe some blood thinning effects,” says Dr. Taschner.

Diet is the first stop in controlling cholesterol. But several factors are prompting doctors to prescribe drugs to more people, based on previous heart events, age, existing medical conditions and statistical risk. Experts believe a wider use of statins - in the right patients - will save lives.

“There are many cholesterol medications that have been available over the years, but the statins are the first group of cholesterol medications that have consistently shown reductions in cardiovascular events. So they don’t just reduce the numbers, they actually reduce the events.”

Despite his family tree, Steffel is changing his personal history by taking a preventative prescription. “The benefits to your health are huge.”