Heart disease remains America's number one cause of death, claiming one out of every five lives lost. However, doctors say many of these deaths are preventable if we make certain changes to our lifestyles, such as lowering cholesterol.
More than 200 million people worldwide take a statin drug because of its ability to significantly lower LDL, or so-called "bad" cholesterol.
However, statins aren't perfect medicines. Research shows up to 29 percent of statin users complain of side effects. Muscle symptoms, like pain, weakness and cramps, are by far the most common, but others include stomach problems and fatigue.
Patients who experience side effects often stop using statins. But now, there are pharmaceutical alternatives for people who want a medicine to help lower their LDL cholesterol but don't want to take a statin.
A Cleveland Clinic-led study shows bempedoic acid is effective and without the drawback some experience with statins. The study involved 14,000 statin-intolerant patients. The group that took bempedoic acid experienced significant benefits compared to the group that took a fake pill known as a placebo.
"About a 30-percent reduction in major cardiovascular events, and a 39-percent reduction in death from heart-related causes. Those are really big treatment effects," the study's lead author Steven E. Nissen, M.D., Chief Academic Officer of the Heart Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic told CBN News. "There were no more muscle-related difficulties with bempedoic acid than there were with the placebo treatment that half of the patients received."
Bempedoic acid did, however, raise a few red flags.
"There were some side effects, including an increased cost, but also some patients were more likely to develop gout and gallstones," AlokPatel, M.D., a Stanford hospitalist told ABC News. "But this is why it's important to talk to doctors about risks and benefits, not only with this drug but with any medication."
In addition to bempedoic acid, doctors can prescribe a number of other non-statin cholesterol-lowering drugs.
"One would be ezetimibe, which is a pill you take that decreases cholesterol absorption in the gut," Luke J. Laffin, M.D., Co-Director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic told CBN News. "There are other injectable medicines that you can take that lower cholesterol, by inhibiting something in the liver called PCSK9, and there's three different medications that really address that."
The American Heart Association announced the top eight ways to achieve good cardiovascular health, such as eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and keeping blood pressure in check.
"Probably the biggest risk for heart disease in this era is still smoking," Sentara Health cardiologist Deepak Talreja, M.D. told CBN News. "So quitting smoking is far and away the single most important thing a person can do. Fortunately, I think most people know that's the right thing to do, and are either working on it, or have done it, or have never started smoking. So after that, the next biggest factor we pay attention to is cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is one of the real drivers for heart disease."
In addition to statins and statin-alternative pharmaceuticals, some doctors recommend natural products to help lower cholesterol, such as red yeast rice extract, fish oil pills, oatmeal, and niacin.