Over a decade ago we started hearing from readers that statins interfered with their ability to exercise. One elite athlete paid very careful attention to his ergometer reading. He used a sophisticated rowing machine that tracked his performance. It deteriorated noticeably after starting a statin to lower his cholesterol.
A husband wrote that his wife’s previously consistent driving distance in golf dropped after she started taking a statin. She was upset that she had lost 10 yards off most of her drives.
When we searched the medical literature at that time, there were no studies demonstrating that statins like atorvastatin, lovastatin and simvastatin interfered with muscle function or exercise capability. When we asked the FDA about such side effects, we were assured that no such problem existed, based on data from randomized controlled clinical trials. Doctors criticized us for worrying people unnecessarily. As people aged, we were told, they would lose muscle strength. It couldn’t possibly be related to statin treatment.
Last year, though, French scientists reported that rats given atorvastatin had less endurance than unmedicated rats. And now, a sophisticated study has proven that statins do indeed have a deleterious effect on muscles (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online, April 10, 2013). Researchers at Duke University, Division of Cardiology, recruited sedentary, overweight people for a fascinating study. They were randomized to 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training or the same exercise plus 40 mg of simvastatin (Zocor) daily.
The people who exercised had a 10% improvement in their cardio-respiratory fitness. Those in the statin group only improved their fitness by 1.5%. Worse, those in the exercise group increased their muscle energy-burning efficiency by 13% whereas the people taking statins had a decrease in the energy factories (mitochondria) of their muscles cells. In other words, statins prevented the benefits of exercise.
This has come as a huge shock to the medical community. It will not surprise readers of The People’s Pharmacy. We told you so more than 10 years go. Here is a story that was included in our book, Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy:
“My mother’s doctors discovered that at age 74 her cholesterol had started to rise. They decided to put her on Lipitor. Since that time her life has changed in many ways. Before Lipitor she played golf on average two times a week. She has not played now in a year. She worked in her yard every day, now only once in a great while. She was walking two to three miles on the days she did not play golf. This she is still doing, only it is one mile. She would go to dinner with us almost every Friday night. She still does this only when we make her.
“Mother is 4 foot 11 inches tall and normally weighs 110 lbs. She has always been happy even though all her friends were passing away. Last week, she told me she wished she could die because of the pain she is in. She wakes up in the middle of the night in so much pain that she can not go back to sleep. Her arthritis has flared up and that is what the doctor has told her is causing her pain. She has also developed diabetes. She is now taking so many drugs that I am not sure what all is wrong with her.”
STATINS AND DIABETES
More than a decade ago readers of The People’s Pharmacy also alerted us to blood sugar problems linked to statins. Again, the FDA ignored our concerns and prescribers denied that there could be any link between statin-type drugs and diabetes. But the evidence continues to build that there is an association between statins and blood sugar control.
A new study in the journal BMJ (online, May 24, 2013) reveals that atorvastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin all raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers reviewed nearly 1.5 million medical records. The individuals were at least 66 years old and had started taking a statin between 1997 and 2010. Although the absolute risk of developing diabetes was low, atorvastin increased it by 22%, rosuvastatin raised it by 18% and simvastatin boosted it by 10%. Pravastatin and fluvastatin actually lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON STATIN SIDE EFFECTS:
It can take decades for researchers or the FDA to discover serious drug-induced side effects. Statins are supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But if such drugs interfere with people’s ability to exercise or control their blood sugar, doctors may need to temper their enthusiasm for these cholesterol-lowering medications so they will be prescribed only for patients who will benefit most.
Share your own statin story below in the comment section. You may also want to read our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health.