The conventional response to raised cholesterol levels is to restrict fat in the diet and to prescribe drugs which lower these levels. In this article we take a look at some of the common side effects of cholesterol lowering drugs. In the next newsletter we will go into detail on the most popular drug group of choice for combating high cholesterol – Statins. Firstly let’s take a look at the differing types of drugs commonly used.
Fibrates Drugs that bind to bile salts
Statins currently available
on the US market include: Nicotinic acid and derivatives
Fluvastatin (Lescol) Acipimox
Pravastatin (Pravachol) Nicotinic Acid
Other drugs acting on the liver (Omega-3 marine triglycerides)
What are the possible side effects of taking lipid lowering drugs?
How to lower cholesterol, well leaving Statins to a later article we will look closer at Fibrates and drugs like Cholestyramine but as a general comment about all the classes of lipid lowering drugs we will start with the BMJ.
According to the British Medical Journal, by increasing the amount of bile in the digestive tract, several drugs can cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea and diarrhoea, especially at the start of treatment. In addition drugs that bind to bile salts can limit absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins, so vitamin supplements may be needed. The fibrates can increase susceptibility to gallstones and occasionally upset the balance of fats in the blood. Statins are used with caution where there is reduced liver function, and monitoring of blood samples is often advised.
Lynne McTaggart, in her book What Doctors Don’t Tell You – The Truth about the Dangers of Modern Medicine, points to a number of additional side effects such as a decrease in serotonin, a brain hormone which normally keeps harmful impulses, such as aggressive behaviour and depression, in check. Californian researchers found that depression was three times more common in those with low blood cholesterol than in elderly patients over 70 with higher blood cholesterol levels.
Women placed on very low-fat diets have lower levels of tryptophan, (an essential amino acid acting as a precursor of serotonin) – (Psychol Med, 1990, 20: 785-91). There is evidence that patients suffering from severe depression have low levels of tryptophan (Werbach, Dr Melvyn, Nutritional Influences on Medical Illness – Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1991: 145-9).
Cholestyramine (a drug that binds to bile salts) can cause constipation, flatulence, heartburn, nausea, diarrhoea, stomach upsets, skin rashes and, rarely, fat in the faeces. It can also lead to vitamin K deficiency, which may increase bleeding due to the inability of the blood to clot properly. In animal studies, cholestyramine has been linked with intestinal cancer (Physicians’ Desk Reference (Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Data Production Company, 1995: 710-12).
Cases of sexual dysfunction have been reported in patients taking a Fibrate called Gemfibrozil, another cholesterol lowering drug. Several studies have shown that certain cholesterol drugs may increase rates of cancer by a third (Physicians’ Desk Reference: 1851-4).
In the next article we will look at the side effects of a common statin called Simvastatin (brand name Zocor).