Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of heart attack risk, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. And if you have it, I can pretty much guarantee your doctor wants you to take a statin drug, like Crestor.

But this is a mistake (for more reasons than one).

First of all, statin drugs may lower your cholesterol, but they don't keep you alive any longer than just taking better care of yourself.

In fact, one major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared statin drugs to "usual care" in patients with moderately high LDL cholesterol. ("Usual care" means that patients tried to maintain a proper body weight, didn't smoke, and regularly exercised.)

Researchers found that men and women who took a statin drug lowered their cholesterol by 28 percent. The "usual care" group lowered their cholesterol by only 11 percent.

But don't start celebrating yet if you're on a statin...

The statin group didn't die any less from heart attacks or strokes than the men and women following "usual care." In fact, both groups showed the very same rates of death from heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

Plus, when you consider the drugs' serious side effects -- which can include muscle pain and neuropathy -- you're much better off hitting the treadmill for 10 minutes a day.

What's the second reason you should skip the statin drug if you have atherosclerosis?

Turns out that changing your diet and eating more fat may work better (and faster!) than taking a drug.

Men and women reduce plaque lesions by eating more fat

Spanish researchers recruited 7,500 men and women who had a high  heart attack risk to take part in their study. They divided the volunteers into three groups.

The first group followed a Mediterranean diet and received 15 liters of virgin olive oil (VOO) to use in cooking over three months. The second group followed a Mediterranean diet and ate 30 grams a day of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. The third group received instructions to follow a low-fat diet.

After three months, the researchers checked back in on their high heart attackrisk patients. Of course, the low-fat dieters didn't exit the study in any better health. Their plaque lesions stayed the same as did their arterial thickness.

But the high-fat groups did great! First off, they improved their ratios of apolipoprotein. This protein binds to fats in the blood. It's an important indicator of cardiovascular health.

Plus...

The men and women who entered the study with atherosclerosis also showed the biggest improvements. Their plaque lesions regressed and they reduced their arterial thickness significantly in just one year!

In addition, five percent of the men and more than 16 percent of the women dropped out of the medium-to-high heart attackrisk category. Researchers saw enough improvements to place them in a low-risk category for suffering a cardiovascular event.

This study underscores the importance of a good diet, rich in unsaturated fats. The researchers said it best in their report: "a modification in the entire diet pattern managed to achieve, in just one year, results that pharmaceutical drugs did not -- even after two years of treatment."

So no matter what your doctor may try and sell you, whether it's a statin drug or low-fat diet, just ignore him. You don't need drugs. But you do need the "good" fat in your diet. It will help you live longer.