“The results from your latest blood work are in and you have high cholesterol.” Does this sound familiar? Approximately one in six Americans has high cholesterol, or about 17 percent. More about high cholesterol here.
Now for the good news. This problem is totally fixable. Changing your diet and exercising is hopefully the first prescription your Doctor gives you. This has been proven to lower cholesterol and comes with a large number of positive side effects. I often hear from my patients “I tried that, it didn’t work for me because of my genetics so my doctor gave me a statin”. It is true, there is a genetic disease that causes high cholesterol called familial hypercholesterolemia. This affects 1 in 500 people. Yet one quarter of Americans aged 45 and older takes a statin.
I get it. Exercise is hard. And chili cheese fries are delicious. Statins are sold as a safe alternative to diet and exercise alone. U.S. sales of statins, which include brand names like Lipitor and Crestor, topped $14 billion in 2009. But statins have side effects. From Lipitor’s web site; “Common side effects are diarrhea, upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, and changes in some blood tests.” New research is showing that not only can statins cause muscle pain, they can also lead to greater risk of injury. In a recent study of over 13,000 U.S. military personal statin patients were almost 20 per cent more likely than non-users to have a diagnosis of a musculo-skeletal disease and a 13 per cent higher risk of a dislocation, strain or sprain. And it gets worse. A new study done at Duke University Medical Center has shown that taking statins actually decreases, and can even reverse, the benefits of exercise! Study participants were divided into two groups. One took statins and exercised, while the second exercised and took a placebo. Cardiorespiratory fitness increased by 10% in response to exercise training alone, but was blunted by the addition of the statin resulting in only a 1.5% increase. Similarly, skeletal muscle citrate synthase activity (a common marker of aerobic capacity and mitochondrial density in skeletal muscle) increased by 13% in the exercise only group, but DECREASED by 4.5% in the statin plus exercise group.
As a Doctor of Chiropractic I treat musculo-skeletal disease, dislocations, strains and sprains. I have seen many mysterious muscle pains resolve after patients stopped taking statins. A few of my colleagues refuse to treat any patients that are taking statins. I am not that extreme, statins have their place in our health care system and can be the best option for a very small group of people fighting high cholesterol. I believe statins are an example of a culture and health care system that relies too heavily on the seemingly easy option of popping a pill, treating the symptoms instead of addressing the root of the problem.
1. Schober SE, Carroll MD, Lacher DA, Hirsch R. High serum total cholesterol—an indicator for monitoring cholesterol lowering efforts; U.S. adults, 2005–2006. NCHS data brief no 2, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.
3. Mansi I, Frei CR, Pugh MJ, Makris U, Mortensen EM. Statins and musculoskeletal conditions, arthropathies, and injuries. JAMA Intern Med 2013; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6184. Available at: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/journal.aspx.