The trend, nowadays, seems to be for more prescription medicines to be available over-the-counter in pharmacies. Sometimes you can even get them from your supermarket shelves.
A few years ago the UK lead the way in allowing one of the cholesterol-lowering statin group of drugs to be sold through pharmacies. Admittedly the strength was half the lowest strength you could get from your doctor. But, it was a start.
Since then, drug companies have been keen to see more of the statin drugs available this way. Presumably it helps their profit profile.
Before you rush out to get your supply, and save visiting your doctor, I have a few thoughts for you to consider.
Statins are usually prescribed for life. They aren't like antibiotics where a course of tablets for a week or two is enough. Once you start down the road of cholesterol lowering by medication the idea is to keep going. If you stop taking them, your cholesterol just goes up again.
An important part of the plan is that you have regular checks on your liver function, since statins could damage your liver. That would be worse than high cholesterol.
These drugs also cause birth defects, so shouldn't be taken by women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant.
Then, who is going to check that the medicine is having the desired effect? You'll need to test your blood to see whether your cholesterol is going down as planned. Regular blood tests are an added expense if you are doing it yourself.
It your cholesterol hasn't dropped, what do you do? Double the dose, triple it? Not necessarily a logical or safe option.
You must be aware of potential side effects and what to do if you get any. Check out the patient information leaflet in the package to see the range of adverse effects and side effects. It won't help just to give up taking the drug without considering the options on your cholesterol and your well-being.
Usually, you view treatment with a statin as only part of a program to lower cholesterol. There are the other things that you can do to help get it down and keep it down. Things such as dietary changes and exercise regimes help your general health while lowering cholesterol.
Using these properly could mean you don't need to take drugs at all. Then there are natural alternatives that can help.
If you start on a statin over-the-counter, should you also get a supplement of Co-enzyme Q-10 just in case you need it too? Because it appears that statin drugs lower the normal levels of this enzyme, which is very important to normal cell workings. Too little Co-Q10 can cause ill health.
Maybe taking more vitamin B3 would be positive, since it helps lower cholesterol as well. If you do take vitamin B3, how much is a good starting dose and how often should you take it? More professional advice needed here!
You see it's not just a simple thing like taking a blood cholesterol test and buying some tablets while avoiding trips to the doctor's office and doing without useful advice and help from health professionals. No one really wants to go to the doctor, especially men, but some things cry out for medical input, and this is one of those things.
I think it's important to start with your doctor confirming that your cholesterol is above normal levels. Then get advice on both drug and non-drug treatments before deciding on the way that suits you.
Don't be persuaded by the powerful advertising messages sent out by the multinational drug companies that try to frighten you into taking drugs. The quick fix approach has its attractions for the busy modern man and woman - all it needs is a tablet.
Life just isn't that simple, I'm afraid. What you will be doing is boosting the profits of both drug companies and suppliers along the way.
You may find that some of the non-drug ways are easier and more effective. They may take a little more work on your part and take a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run.
If statins are for you, stick to your doctor and get the back-up you need to make treatment as effective and as risk-free as it can be.
Taking these powerful medicines like these statins without involving the doctor is a serious mistake.
By James Brunton BSc, MSc
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