An article written by Gretchen Reynolds in the May 22, 2013 edition of the New York Times addresses the effect of statins on the benefits of exercise. A new study, published online in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri and other institutions. They gathered a group of overweight, sedentary men and women, all of whom had multiple symptoms of metabolic problems including wide waistlines, high blood pressure, or excess abdominal fat. Most had slightly but not dangerously elevated cholesterol levels. None had exercised in the past year. All underwent muscle biopsies and treadmill testing to determine their aerobic fitness (which was quite low), and agreed to continue on their normal diet. For this group of subjects, diet and exercise would be the preferred method of improving metabolic symptoms noted above-all of which can lead to stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and orthopedic issues. They all began a supervised 12-week exercise program consisting of five times/week walking or running on a treadmill for 45 minutes at a moderately vigorous pace (65-70%of their aerobic maximum). Half of the group also began taking a daily 40-milligram dose of Zocor, a statin used to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol. At the end of 12 weeks, the participants muscles and fitness were retested. The unmedicated subjects improved their fitness significantly, increasing it by more than 10%. The subjects taking Zocor gained barely 1%, and some possessed less aerobic capacity than when the study started. So what happened? When researchers looked microscopically at biopsied muscle tissue, they found big differences in the levels of an enzyme related to the health of mitochondria, the power-generators of the cell. Mitochondria increase in number and efficiency when someone exercises. But in those taking Zocor, this enzyme dropped by 4.5%, while those not medicated rose by 13%. This study joins a growing body of evidence indicating that statins can negatively affect the exercise response. Lab rodents given statins can not run as far as unmedicated rodents, and in humans, marathon runners on statins develop more muscle damage than runners not using them. If you are taking statins and exercise, you might want to have a talk with your doctor.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.