Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk with Statins

Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

A‘statin’ a day can keep a heart attack away. Heart disease is often thought of as a silent killer because you can have it without any warning signs. This makes it hard to diagnose until something happens. People with diabetes are at high risk for developing heart disease. There is new evidence showing that taking a statin drug to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol reduces the risk of developing heart disease.

Statins are a group of medicines that lower blood cholesterol by decreasing the body’s ability to make it.

According to new studies, lowering LDL cholesterol as much as possible reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. More than ever, health care providers want to help people with diabetes lower their cholesterol levels. One reason for this relates to the outcome of the recent Heart Protection Study.

Details of the Heart Protection Study

The purpose of the Heart Protection Study was to understand whether lowering cholesterol would help reduce the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. It was the largest research study of its kind and was done over a period of five years with 20,000 people. It was also the largest study of people with diabetes at risk for heart disease. One of the strongest findings was that regardless of the person’s cholesterol level (whether above or below 100 mg/dL), the use of a statin was proved to significantly  reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Most people in the study started with an LDL higher than 100 mg/dL. But there were some people who started with an LDL lower than 100 mg/dL, and they still had a reduction in their risk of heart disease.

What this study means for you is that a statin can help save your life by reducing your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke If you have diabetes, talk with your health care provider about your cholesterol level and the ways you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Why does diabetes increase the risk of heart disease?

High blood glucose levels alone can damage blood vessels. The blood vessel walls can become thicker, so blood has a harder time passing through. Also, people with diabetes often have high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. These can clog blood vessels, making them very narrow. This condition, known as atherosclerosis (also called “hardening of the arteries”), can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Today, the belief among diabetes experts is that it is as important to decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke as it is to control your blood glucose.

If you have diabetes, your LDL cholesterol should be as low as possible. Your health care provider can determine your cholesterol levels with a simple blood test that will show both the LDL cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. The LDL cholesterol is bad because it builds up on the wall of your arteries, forming plaque. The HDL cholesterol is good because it helps your body get rid of the bad cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of fat that can also lead to hardening of the arteries. Statins have been found to lower your LDL and triglycerides while raising the level of HDL in your blood. The benefits of using statins are that they will reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have heart disease or diabetes.

The numbers

If you have diabetes, your LDL should be lower than 100 mg/dL. There are some experts who suggest going as low as 70 mg/dL to further reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This advice is particularly true for people with diabetes. It is important to talk with your health care provider about your specific risk for developing heart disease.

Other risks include having diabetes, your age, family history, food choices, physical activity, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

What you can do

Ask your health care provider if you are at high risk for heart disease. If so, find out how you can lower your LDL cholesterol to help reduce your risk. Ask your health care provider for help and guidance about how to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating healthy, being active and not smoking. Ask your health care provider if you also could benefit from a statin medicine. Some or all of these steps can help you lower your risk of heart disease.

Understanding Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women in the United States. The numbers are far greater than the number of deaths from all cancers combined.

Most heart disease is caused by narrowing of the arteries that feed the heart—these are the coronary arteries Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged by fat and cholesterol deposits, they cannot supply enough blood to the heart. The result is coronary heart disease (CHD).

If not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, a person may have chest pain. This is called angina. Angina typically occurs when you exercise and it goes away when you stop. A heart attack happens if the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by total blockage of a coronary artery. A heart attack is usually caused by a sudden closure of an artery from a blood clot.

Some people are more likely than others to develop heart disease because of their risk factors. Risk factors are behaviors or conditions that increase the chance of heart disease. Some of the risk factors for heart disease, like our genes, are beyond our control.

However, most can be managed to help lower the risk of getting the disease.

Because each risk factor multiplies the effect of the other risk factors, it is very important to prevent or control the ones that you can change. If you have one or more risk factors, talk to your health care provider or your pharmacist about what you can do to decrease your risk. Work with them to find out how to most reduce your heart disease risk and keep it from getting worse.

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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

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