Health Buzz: FDA Adds Warnings to Statins

A plant-based diet to cut bad cholesterol; could getting more fiber help you live longer?

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FDA Adds Diabetes, Memory Loss Warnings to Statins

Federal health officials are adding new safety warnings to cholesterol-reducing statin drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that medicines like Lipitor, Crestor, and Zocor will now note increased risks of type 2 diabetes and memory loss. The labeling changes are based on clinical trials and reports of adverse events from patients, physicians, and drugmakers. Statins may increase users' risk of brain-related problems like memory loss and confusion, though the symptoms typically vanish once the drug is stopped, the FDA said. The drugs could also cause elevated levels of blood sugar, the Associated Press reports. Despite the new warnings, patients should still feel comfortable taking statins, the agency said. "The value of statins in preventing heart disease has been clearly established," Amy Egan, deputy director for safety in the FDA's Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products, said in a statement. "Their benefit is indisputable, but they need to be taken with care and knowledge of their side effects."

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  • A Plant-based Diet to Cut Bad Cholesterol

    Going green could help bring down the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the bad kind that can lead to heart attack and stroke. While it's always been smart to ditch the butter and forget the fatty meats, recent research suggests opting for plant-based foods is an effective way to lower the level of LDL cholesterol.

    Canadian researchers recruited people with very high LDL and put them on a diet that included plant-based sterols supplied by a special margarine, soy protein from tofu, soy milk, and soy-based meat substitutes, viscous fiber from oats, barley, and psyllium, and nuts. After six months, the LDL level of the study participants dropped by an average of 13 percent, reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke over the next 10 years by about 11 percent on average. The study was published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    "Each one of these ingredients will help you, but when they all work together, you'll get the strongest results," says study author Peter Jones, Canada's research chair in functional foods and nutrition. "Plant-based sterols alone can lower your cholesterol by 5 percent. When you add in fiber and nuts and soy, the story just keeps getting better." [Read more: A Plant-based Diet to Cut Bad Cholesterol]

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    • Could Getting More Fiber Help You Live Longer?

      Hear fiber and you probably think of bran cereal, which doesn't exactly make you salivate. But research suggests more fiber could equal more years. Analyzing data from nearly 400,000 men and women ages 50 to 71, researchers found that those who consumed the most fiber were 22 percent less likely to die from any cause during the nine years they were studied. Men were 24 to 56 percent and women 34 to 59 percent less likely to die of heart and infectious or respiratory diseases, according to findings from the National Institutes of Health's AARP Diet and Health Study, published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

      Why fiber reduces the risk of early death is unclear. Perhaps it's because fiber lowers levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, improves blood glucose levels, reduces inflammation, and binds to potential cancer-causing agents, helping to flush them out of the body, says lead author Yikyung Park, a staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute.

      What is clear, however, is that participants only benefited when fiber came from grains, like oatmeal, cornmeal, and brown rice. Fiber from fruits, vegetables, and beans had no impact on death risk. "Whole grains are rich sources of fiber, but also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals that may provide health benefits," Park says. And grains have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—another reason researchers say grain fiber is beneficial. [Read more: Could Getting More Fiber Help You Live Longer?]