Many people who take statin drugs complain of muscle pain and muscle damage. A new study associates this statin-induced muscle pain with low blood levels of vitamin D (Atherosclerosis, 11/22/2016). An eight–week randomized, double–blind crossover trial of a statin drug (simvastatin, 20 mg/day) on 120 patients who had previously complained of muscle pain from statins showed that 43 (35.8 percent) had pain while taking statins, but not on a placebo, and that people who developed muscle damage from taking statins had lower levels of vitamin D.
Several other research papers show that taking vitamin D pills reduces muscle pain and muscle damage in 85 percent of the people who have low levels of vitamin D, and that they develop muscle pain when they take statins (N. Am. J. Med. Sci, March 2015;7(3):86–93 and 339–340). Many people who have muscle pain and damage from taking statins can safely continue statins by raising their blood levels of vitamin D above 30 ng/ml.
Low vitamin D is also associated with increased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart attacks. When people with vitamin D deficiency and high cholesterol replenish their deficit of vitamin D, their blood levels of all three factors can drop to normal (Archives of Medical Science, 11/01/2016).
Statins Do Not Correct Bad Lifestyle Choices
Forty percent of the deaths in North America are from heart attacks. The majority of heart attacks come from people making bad lifestyle choices:
- drinking alcohol regularly
- being overweight
- not eating enough vegetables, fruits and seeds (nuts, beans, whole grains)
- consuming too many sugar-added foods and drinks
- eating red meat and fried foods
- not exercising
- not getting enough vitamin D (blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D)
Having high blood levels of LDL cholesterol is a major predictor of heart attack risk. Current guidelines are that people who have LDL cholesterol levels higher than 100 or are otherwise at increased risk for a heart attack should take statin drugs, even though we know that lifestyle changes could be more effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and preventing heart attacks than taking drugs.
Statins are unquestionably the most effective drugs available today to help prevent heart attacks. However, all drugs have side effects. Statins can raise blood sugar levels to increase diabetes risk, and the most common reason why people stop taking statins is the muscle pain and muscle damage that statins can cause.
Everybody who has high cholesterol does not need to take statins, but everyone should be following all of the rules for preventing heart attacks by changing the lifestyle factors that increase their risk.
- If you are taking statins and are having muscle pain, check with your doctor. Ask your doctor to check your hydroxy vitamin D level, and if it is below 20 ng/ml, he or she may prescribe vitamin D supplements or increased sunshine exposure (if available). See Vitamin D: Latest Research
- Whether or not you are experiencing muscle pain, if you are taking statins, be sure that you are also correcting lifestyle habits that may have led you to be at increased risk for a heart attack (see the list above).
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.