Could Statins Wreck Your Fitness Gains?

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Statins are highly effective at lowering LDL cholesterol, important for men with heightened risk of heart disease. However, these drugs, among the most prescribed in the U.S., have been linked to weight gain, Type-2 diabetes, nausea, headaches, and muscle fatigue and soreness. Now new research, conducted on mice, suggests statins may also hinder fitness in multiple ways.

While the results of animal studies don’t directly apply to humans, they can shed light on possible implications of certain medications. In this study, mice bred to have high LDL cholesterol were shot up with either statins or saline every day for two weeks to see how the drugs would affect their muscle makeup, strength, and activity levels. During this time, some mice from each group were given unlimited access to running wheels while others didn’t have a way to exercise.

By month’s end, the statins had lowered all of the animals’ cholesterol just like they’re supposed to. But within the exercise group, the medicated mice logged far fewer miles on their wheels than the control mice. “Mice that received statins gradually reduced the amount of voluntary wheel running over the course of two weeks, whereas the mice that received saline maintained their mileage,” says lead researcher Marni Boppart, a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Boppart’s team also assessed the mice’s grip strength and muscle force. Sure enough, statins significantly reduced both measures among runners and non-runners alike. Statins also blunted beneficial adaptations in the muscle fibers and mitochondria that would otherwise result from exercise. “The overall outcome was that fitness increased in control mice but was reduced in the mice receiving statins,” Boppart says.

Exactly how or why statins have these effects is unknown. Although seeing as human studies have shown that the meds trigger muscle pain, Boppart says it’s possible the statin-injected mice ached, too. That may have discouraged them from running.

But, of course, there’s really no way of asking mice whether their calves hurt. It’s also impossible to gauge their overall fatigue. Yet Boppart says fatigue at the muscular level was apparent in all mice receiving statins. “Thus, statins may negatively affect the primary nerves that allow for muscle contraction,” she explains. “And this may have been responsible for the reduction in activity level.”

Again, we can’t automatically assume that the same stuff would happen to a man who takes statins. But it could. Whether statin-induced pain leads to bailing on more workouts or the drugs dampen results enough to discourage effort, there is potential for the drugs to interfere with a man’s fitness. Given the numerous other possible side effects, be sure to talk to your doctor about the benefits and drawbacks before starting a statin. And if you do decide to take one, closely monitor your willingness to exercise and your workout results and report back to your doc if you’re concerned.