Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins can be more effective when accompanied by a sensible diet, according to new research from Finland.
A team led by Dr Antti Jula of the Research and Development Centre of the Social Insurance Institution in Turku, Finland, studied a group of 120 men with high cholesterol and found that a combination of a Mediterranean-style diet and the drug simvastatin (Zocor) was more effective at lowering cholesterol than either approach alone.
Statins have already been shown to decrease the risk of heart attacks by lowering levels of triglycerides and LDL or bad cholesterol while at the same time increasing levels of HDL or good cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to help combat heart disease risk. It contains high levels of fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts, with few saturated fats and lots of healthier fatty acids.
Dr Jula said the men in the study were randomly selected to follow a Mediterranean diet or their normal diet, with half the group randomly assigned to take simvastatin each day. The others took a placebo. After three months, the men taking simvastatin switched to the placebo and vice versa.
Both the diet and the drug therapies were shown to reduce cholesterol levels, with simvastatin lowering levels about three times as much as the diet alone. However, it also cut levels of vitamin E, beta-carotene and ubiquinol, important antioxidants used to destroy dangerous free radicals in the human body. The diet caused only a slight decrease in vitamin E.
The diet could also counteract the potentially dangerous effects of statins on insulin. Dr Jula said the research showed that simvastatin boosted levels of insulin in the blood while the diet lowered insulin levels.