older african american man doing pushups in the park, exercise

Q. Six years ago my doctor prescribed Lipitor to control my cholesterol. I was switched to simvastatin the last few years.

Over that time I have gained weight and there is something wrong with my muscles. My legs have no strength and it is a struggle to get off the sofa. My brain feels fuzzy, I have memory problems and my doctor says my blood sugar is climbing.

I never had a heart problem, just high cholesterol. I am convinced the statins are causing me trouble. Is there any way to get my cholesterol down without feeling like I have been run over by a truck?

A. People on statins often exercise less, perhaps because of muscle pain, weakness and fatigue (JAMA Internal Medicine, online, June 9, 2014). There is also evidence that statins can raise blood sugar levels (BMJ, online, July 17, 2014).

Doctors often point out that people with heart disease deserve the extra protection that only a statin may be able to provide. They are certainly correct that people who have had a heart attack or stent placement do benefit from statins and reduce the risk of another cardiac event. What is far more controversial is the question of whether someone without a heart problem, like you, really benefits from long-term statin therapy, especially if side effects like muscle weakness limit mobility.

Both diabetes and exercise reduction are major risk factors for heart disease. To help you lower your cholesterol with non-drug approaches, we are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health with foods and supplements that can be used to get cholesterol down. If that is your major objective, natural approaches can be surprisingly effective.

One reader, Laura E., was able to get her LDL cholesterol down from 155 to 111 within five weeks of making dramatic changes to her diet. Here is what Laura did:

  • Avoided spikes in blood sugar
  • Eliminated refined carbohydrates
  • Ate a high-protein breakfast
  • Substituted olive oil for other fats
  • Added soluble fiber to meals other than breakfast
  • Focused on Fish
  • Drank green tea
  • Consumed other antioxidants
  • Stopped eating before bed

Laura was kind enough to provide more details about each of these dietary changes. We have included them in our book, Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy.

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  1. ds

    Exercise, daily preferably, is excellent to lower cholesterol. Also know some families have High Cholesterol but low risk of Heart Disease & bad reactions to Statins. My 3x CRP Tests confirmed low-no inflammation. Check CRP Test for inflammation & other Labs for heart risks. In my opinion.

  2. ds

    If one wants to “Jump start” a High Protein breakfast or Snacks w.o. Meats: Eggs, Milk, Whey Protein Powder with milk & various Fruits or 75%-100% Non sweetened Cocao. (I found 100% cocoa made by Ghiradelli &; Hershey (no additives) in reg. Supermarket. Very satisfying & filling. I’m not hungry for 4-5 hours. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, bananas, fresh Figs, etc., No extra sugar is necessary. Very minimal sugar in Top Care Protein Powder. Review Labels to make sure. Some Protein Powders have less than 20 grams of Protein or have sugars, etc. I think wise to Not have extra vitamins in Protein powders. (Especially if taking a Daily vitamin. Don’t want to overdose on Vitamins or supplements. ) Protein Powder w. Milk & 100% cocoa & /or fruits has enabled my body to seem better, build muscle since awful Statins & FQ toxicity. Had terrible damage. Way to go, but better than pre High Protein. Had to resort to Protein Powder & milk due to loss of appetite from bad RXs.

  3. ABS

    Four years ago I was diagnosed with Diverticulitis. I was cautioned not to consume any seeds larger than tomato or okra, corn, popcorn, and nuts. First thing each day I take 1 1/4t Metamucil and have had no difficulties in the past 4 + years. There has been sufficient nutritional information to indicate that 7 almonds a day is a great addition to your diet. Since I have been warned not to consume nuts, I have begun drinking Almond Milk. Is this a suitable substitute for eating the 7 almonds daily or should I avoid the Almond Milk as well? Thank you for constantly keeping us aware of both positive and negative issues to help us maintain optimum health .

  4. JLB

    Six years ago I was taking 20 mg of Zocar. Then from Oct. 2008 until Dec. 2010 I took 10 mg of simvastatin. Since that time I have gone on a very strict low fat & low carb diet, avoiding high fat foods which is difficult, and that has resulted in my cardiologist agreeing to lower the simvastatin dosage to 5 mg. By following a low fat, low carb diet my last blood test on Oct. 2013 was as follows:
    Total Cholesterol 150, triglycerides 70, LDL 72, HDL 64, non-HDL cholesterol 86, liver enzymes SGOT 25 & SGPT 33.
    I was able to get my cholesterol down to a safe level while taking a low amount of cholesterol lowering medicine and that benefits my liver because it is a known fact that the medication puts an enormous stress on the liver and being 73 years old I want to/need to protect my liver.

  5. JG

    “High protein” generally refers to things like eggs, cheese, and meat, as opposed to high carbohydrate breakfast choices like cereal, toast, and fruit juices.
    She substituted olive oil FOR less healthy fats, not WITH less healthy fats. That means that she used olive oil instead of unhealthy fats.

  6. fbl

    Many years ago my hubby’s cholesterol was about 350. We’d been on the low fat diet recommended at the time. Finally I told my Dr. that I wasn’t going to allow my hubby to take meds for this problem but would go back to eating the way our ancestors did. He threw up his hands and said “go for it”.
    I got rid of the margarine (I’d kept butter for me) and all the unnatural oils (soy, canola, corn etc.). We now use only organic coconut and palm oils, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and I use avocado or nut oils to make mayonnaise.
    My hubby’s cholesterol is now perfect, 225, and mine is no lower, but unfortunately no higher. Mine stays at 110. No 110 is NOT healthy and I’m the one with stroke and heart problems. My hubby has had no problems with heart or circulation.

  7. Steve B.

    I started on Simvastatin five years ago and switched to Lipitor (Atorvastatin 80 MG) less than two years ago. This move was authorized by my Cardiologist after having an Aortic valve replaced in heart. Gained weight and muscles ache although can still walk a good distance when pushed. Seventy one years young/old depending on the activity. Difference between these two statins?

  8. J Mohr

    I was on simvastatin to lower my cholesterol which was just a little over where they wanted wanted it to be. I heard all the side effects of this medicine and really wanted off.
    My husband had problems with Lipitor. I stopped taking the medicine but was scolded by the nurse because my levels were up.
    I saw a spot on the news about a physician whose husband had alzhiemers. She had started him on coconut oil and some of his symptoms improved. Along with patients with other disorders like Als, etc. They also improved.
    I found a book call The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife. After reading the book and doing further research I decided to start taking the coconut oil pills. I stopped taking the simvastatin. When I went for my annual checkup a few months later I was told that my cholesterol level was ok. I had not change anything else.

  9. cpmt

    MY DOCTOR prescribed lipitor to help my kidneys (not because my cholesterol is high) is there any other medication or other ways to help my kidneys (benefit) without using lipitor and its side effects? I am diabetic. I will like to find something natural (diet changes for example : which food to eat more and which to stop eating?) or…any advice? Thank you.

    • Fzmom

      Do you realize Lipitor is a Statin drug, and statins could eventually lead to kidney damage… everyone needs to do their own investigation on statin side effects since you are on the Internet…….I’m just sayin…

      • FMc
        United States

        I was on Lipitor till 5 years ago and it clouded my vision after approximately 10 years usage. While at work it was then I realized my vision was cloudy and we were sitting outside the office everyone around me kept saying how they loved the sunny day I thought it was about to rain because it looked overcast to me. On day 2 same experience. I threw out the Lipitor and used Slo-Niacin and of course altered my diet. To no avail after a cholesterol test last month (January/2015) my numbers for total are 282mg/dL.( HDL 59, LDL199 and VLDL 24). My primary sent me to the cardiologist and he recommended Zocor 20mg qHS. I’m staying consistent with the diet suggestions and using many of your recipes especially the steel cut oats with flaxseed. Had my stress test yesterday February 16, 2015 and waiting for results. Additionally I am in the gym 3-4 times per week with weights and the treadmill. Still afraid of the statin, which started 2 weeks ago. No bad results yet. Will keep you posted.

  10. Ginny

    After gaining weight for no reason & feeling sluggish, I started the Grain Brain book & diet. I initially lost 8 lbs, but need to lose 20 more. I’d been on Lipitor for 15 years for high cholesterol, but no heart disease/problem.
    I convinced my new primary physician to let me stop taking the statin & she agreed. I’ll go back in Sept to check my numbers. But, getting off gluten & the statin has given me more energy & my brain isn’t “fuzzy” as it had been. I think doctors need to keep up with new findings & stop prescribing statins for everyone.

  11. cpmt

    high protein breakfast? did she give some hint in ‘high protein’? I don’t know what has high protein. any idea? and why (or I don’t understand) does she removed/ substituted olive oil for other fats which are probably bad for her? or does she mean the other way around?

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