Statins are a type of drug often prescribed to lower cholesterol levels. They are usually given to people who have high cholesterol and are therefore at risk of developing, heart disease and atherosclerosis or at risk of having a stroke. These drugs are very effective at reducing cholesterol as they work by inhibiting a chemical in the liver that helps to produce cholesterol.
Are they all they’re cracked up to be?
Statins are widely prescribed and have been for some time but their use is still controversial. Some studies have linked prolonged use of statins with certain types of cancer but the results have not been consistent.
They can, however, produce a number of side effects which include headache, stomach pain, bloating, nausea, skin rashes, and occasionally more serious side effects such as muscle pain and kidney failure.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fish oil is now well known to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as many other health conditions including everything from arthritis to skin problems and even depression. The reason for this is that Fish oil produced from oily fish such as Salmon, Sardines and Tuna, contains important Omega 3 fatty acids that the body needs but cannot make. One of the most important Omega 3 fatty acids is Eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA which is believed to be largely responsible for the beneficial effects on health.
Many studies to date have shown that fish oil reduces inflammation, thins the blood, and helps to maintain healthy arteries, lowers blood pressure, as well as lower triglyceride levels and levels of so called bad cholesterol.
Fish oil is considered safe to use and carries very few side effects, the most common being a fishy aftertaste in the mouth and fishy burps.
What about both?
Most people won’t question the use of Statins and will take them because they have been prescribed by their doctor, however, more and more people, including doctors are becoming aware of the health benefits associated with fish oil. It has to be said though that most doctors are still unlikely to prescribe or recommend fish oil alongside or instead of statins but this is starting to change.
Fish oil with a kick
It takes time for the results of studies to filter down into the doctor’s surgery but now, drug regulators in Australia have approved a concentrated form of Omega 3 fish oil for use by people who have had a heart attack or who are already taking Statins and beta blockers. It’s only available on prescription though. Experts have described the new Omega 3 “drug” as “fish oil with a kick”.
According to Yahoo News Professor Gerald Watts, from the University of WA’s school of medicine and pharmacology at Royal Perth Hospital, welcomed the approval of the new drug,
“It’s safe, it’s simple and will cost the punter some money but it will probably be pretty appealing as an extra insurance against a heart attack” he said.
The Japanese JELIS study
Probably the most major study to show the benefits of taking fish oil alongside Statin therapy is a Japanese study led by Dr Mitsuhiro Yokoyama from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan. The results of The Japan EPA Lipid Intervention Study (JELIS) were published in the March 31st 2007 issue of the Lancet.
The Japanese JELIS study involved 19,466 people all of whom were taking a low dose of statins for high cholesterol. Of these, 9326 were given a daily dose of 1800 mg of a highly concentrated and purified form of EPA alongside their statins, and the remainder received statins alone. Cholesterol levels were identified at the beginning of the trial and were checked after six months, after 12 months, and then yearly after that.
Reduction in risk
At a follow up just over 4 and a half years later, the results revealed that in the group taking EPA alongside statins there was a 25 percent reduction in cholesterol levels in both groups.
In the group that was given EPA alongside statins there was a 19 percent reduction in the risk of major coronary events which included death from heart disease, heart attack, unstable angina, and the need for revascularization.
“The beneficial effects of EPA could have stemmed from many biological effects that lead to the attenuation of thrombosis, inflammation, and arrhythmia, in addition to a reduction of triglycerides” said the authors.
“Overall, this study shows that EPA, at a dose of 1800 mg per day, is a very promising regimen for prevention of major coronary events, especially since EPA seems to act through several biological mechanisms.”
Taking into consideration the results of the JELIS study it would appear there is some benefit to be had by supplementing with fish oil whilst taking statins, however, it’s important to note that the fish oil used in the study was a highly concentrated and purified form of fish oil. Anyone who wishes to take fish oil alongside statin therapy should speak to their doctor or health care professional first.