Cheap Drug Alternatives to Lower Your Cholesterol

Generic statins and natural supplements save money

Cholesterol drugs can strain your budget. Brand-name statins like Crestor (rosuvastatin) can sell for more than $100 a month. But most drugs in the statin family come in cheaper generic forms, and sometimes it may be beneficial to switch. They cost as little as $4 for a 30-day supply—offering substantial protection against heart disease for less than the cost of a daily vitamin.

The generic statins include:

Brand Name Generic
Vytorin ezetimibe/simvastatin
Lipitor atorvastatin
Mevacor, Altoprev lovastatin
Pravachol pravastatin
Zocor simvastatin
Lescol fluvastatin
Crestor rosuvastatin

As patents expire, the newer statins become available in generic form.

Pharmacist Assisiting Customer With Prescription Queries
Tom Werner / Getty Images

Safely Going Generic With Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs

A large study found that people who took generic statins were more likely to adhere to taking them and had lower rates of heart attack, stroke, or all-cause mortality.

Your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) "bad" cholesterol level is a key factor in determining which statin is right for you. How much cholesterol-lowering do you need? "If somebody needs a moderate reduction of cholesterol, it is often safe to switch to something like simvastatin," says Joseph Miller, MD, clinical director of the heart health program at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.

Examples include:

  • Lipitor was the most commonly prescribed statin and is available in the generic form, atorvastatin.
  • Before atorvastatin debuted as a generic drug, simvastatin was the most potent generic and may be useful for people who need a 35% or greater drop in LDL cholesterol.
  • Pravastatin may be an appropriate generic for people taking multiple medicines because it appears less likely to cause undesirable drug interactions.

When Only a Brand-Name Statin Will Do

Choosing the right cholesterol medicine for your individual needs can be a complex decision best made by your physician. If you fall into a high-risk category for heart disease or have very high LDL cholesterol, you may require the most potent statins available, which may not be yet available in generic form.

Eating More Fiber

Miller says that boosting your intake of soluble fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels by as much as 10%. Oatmeal helps, as do special margarine, juices, vitamins, and yogurts fortified with plant sterols. "If you're close to your goal on a generic drug, these other options can get you there," he says.

Splitting or Skipping Pills

Pharmacies often charge the same price for different doses, so many doctors will prescribe a stronger dose than needed and tell patients to split their pills. This way, you get the dose you need at a lower cost. This is safe and widely accepted.

What doesn't work is skipping doses or taking a drug "holiday" without your doctor's approval to save money. Your LDL cholesterol will rise, and with it, your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

When medicine costs are simply out of reach, people can try the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which provides free medication to those in need.

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  1. Gagne JJ, Choudhry NK, Kesselheim AS, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Generic and Brand-Name Statins on Patient OutcomesAnnals of Internal Medicine. 2014;161(6):400. doi:10.7326/m13-2942

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