Patients who diligently take their cholesterol medicines – mostly statins – manage to lower their cholesterol levels, according to a study. This was one of the main conclusions of the study, which was conducted by SingHealth Polyclinics and sponsored by the Singapore Heart Foundation.

In Singapore, nearly two out of 10 adults aged 18 to 69 have high cholesterol – one of the top illnesses seen by polyclinics over the past 10 years. Equal numbers of Chinese, Malays and Indians took part in the study, which found that while race did not make a difference, diligence in taking medicines did

Those who took their medicines as prescribed achieved their treatment goals, with the following success rates: Chinese – 82 per cent, Indians – 70 per cent, and Malays – 69 per cent. “Regardless of ethnicity, high cholesterol can be addressed with the use of medication,” said Dr Tan Ngiap Chuan, Director, Department of Research, SingHealth Polyclinics, who was the lead author of the study’s report.

How statins work
High cholesterol can be reduced with medication such as statins – the most commonly used drugs to control low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. They work by blocking an enzyme that produces this “bad” cholesterol in the liver.

High levels of cholesterol – a waxy, fat-like substance that contributes to artery-clogging plaque – raise the risk of vascular diseases such as stroke and diabetes. A low-fat diet and increased exercise can reduce cholesterol levels. Smoking and a sedentary lifestyle raise one’s risks.

Statins are safe to take long term
Dr Tan acknowledged that some patients fear taking statins; about 54 per cent of a previous study’s participants believed that using statins long-term can damage the kidneys or liver. Squashing fears about statins’potential negative side effects, Dr Tan said that some, such as muscle aches and pains or raised liver enzymes, come few and far between. 

Suggestions that statins should be avoided because they are harmful in the long run are exaggerations. Also, doctors regularly monitor patients who are on medication. “Data shows that most of the millions of patients on the drugs do not have negative side effects. Instead, the majority who take them actually live longer, useful lives. It is not the evil it is made out to be by some quarters. I tell my patients it’s their elixir for a long life; a long, good life.”

What does it cost to live healthier for longer? 
There are different brands and potencies of statins. The cheapest costs over a dollar a week for adults below 65, with a government subsidy; less, for older folk who qualify for higher subsidies. The most expensive costs between $2 and $4 per tablet, without a subsidy. 

Noting that Singapore ranks high globally for longevity, Dr Tan said: “Many of our patients are already on statins.This is probably one of the contributing factors for our longer lifespan.”

Ref: N18