Recently a new study showed that the benefits of exercising might be impaired by the commonly prescribed, lipid lowering statins (named Zocord, Simvastatin and Crestor etc).
Cholesterol lowering drugs are commonly subscribed to people with, what in medicine is called, elevated blood cholesterol levels. Usually life style changes, like increased exercise, is enouraged.
Some doctors even suggest people over 50 should take these drugs for preventive reasons.
People who are overweight, sedentary, in the middle-age with an increased risk for heart disease are the ones who would benefit most from aerobic exercise. But they are also the ones that usually have elevated blood lipid levels and would be put on statins.
A common side effect of statins are muscle aches, and athletes with high demands on their muscular system might have such difficulties with the statins that they need to go on other alternative medications. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22036108
This is widely known among doctors, but until now there has been no or very little research on the mechanism behind this.
In this study a group of people that hadn’t been exercising regularly the last year, with signs of metabolic syndrome (wide waistlines/excess abdominal fat and increased blood pressure), and with slightly elevated blood cholesterol levels were divided into two groups.
Both groups were put on a regular, supervised 12 week, exercise program, visiting the university clinic five times/week, walking or jogging on a treadmill for 45 minutes in a speed about 65-70 % of their individual aerobic maximum.
Their aerobic fitness was measured and muscle biopsies were taken before and after the trial. No changes in diet were allowed.
One group started taking 40 mg of Zocord, a commonly subscribed statin, at the beginning of the trial.
The unmedicated group improved their aerobic ability with 10 % on average, and muscle biopsies showed an increase in an enzyme produced by the mitochondria – the energy producing machine in the muscle cells, indicating the normal response to exercise in muscle.
In the group taking statins the average improvement was 1 %, and for some participants it sank below their starting point. When looking at their muscles the levels of the enzyme hadn’t increased as much or even lowered compared to the base line.
These findings suggests that statins might impair the benefits of aeorbic exercise. The medication might actually lower the number of mitochondria in muscle cells, making it more difficult to exercise.
This is a concern, since the level of aerobic fitness is more closely correlated to the risk of the premature death in heart disease than cholesterol levels.
This calls for careful thinking before anyone should start with lipid lowering statins. Both prescriber and patient should be cautious. Is this really needed? How high is the risk, and is it really lowered by drugs?
If you can do it on your own, why take medicines with the risk of all the side effects, especially if it blunts your own efforts?
Have a discussion with your doctor before you get on them. And if you already are on medication, discuss if you really need it! You might do better with some regular exercise when it comes to lowering your risk for heart disease, and also enjoy the benefits of feeling strong and healthy!
Go natural as long as you can – that’s my suggestion!