Americans have an exercise problem. I remember a trip to Italy with my family a few years back and seeing an 80-year-old woman haul her groceries back from the store. I remember these active seniors of my childhood, but this Italian woman would have been such an out-of-place sight in most US suburbs that she would have undoubtedly triggered a police chase! Why do we seem to have a harder time exercising than our ancestors and our non-US counterparts? Could it be the medications we take? A new study that vividly shows the toxic effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs on muscle may help explain a few things.
Cholesterol-Lowering Statin Drugs
While I often poke fun at traditional US medicine on the blog, you have to respect the business sensibilities of pharma companies. They have built a massive business selling statin pills to lower our cholesterol, despite recent research that shows that lowering our total cholesterol shouldn’t be the goal for most patients. They were able to pivot and survive those scientific discoveries by seeding FDA panels with university professors on the pharma dole. More recently, research has shown that these same cholesterol pills dramatically increase the risk for type 2 diabetes; this is nonsensical, given that all by itself this disease can cause the same heart attacks and strokes that the pills purport to prevent. Not only did they survive that scientific discovery, but they turned it to their advantage. They had the cojones to have a professor who has received billions in pharma funding (yes that’s billions with a “B”) put out a press release lamenting that the mounting anti-statin stance (based on the research) was unfounded. The professor told us that virtually every man, woman, and child should be imbibing statin-infused drinking water. Is this a great country or what?
How Well Do Statins Work?
In a recent study, not so well. Check out my video below:
Myopathy means muscle disease in the language of medical jargon. I know this illness and statin side effect intimately because my aunt almost died in a Staten Island (no pun intended) ICU of the disorder. Statin drugs can cause muscle damage in select patients, mostly through what looks like a medication allergy. However, how that occurs to some degree in most patients and exactly how that happens hasn’t been entirely worked out.
The New Research That Shows Why the Average Statin User May Not Want to Exercise
In the new study, the researchers gave mice a statin drug for only one month and then looked at the composition of their muscles. You may not know it, but your muscles are made up of two main types of fibers: fast and slow twitch. The fast-twitch fibers are responsible for things like sprinting and many of the activities you would perform in a CrossFit gym—quick and explosive movements.
The mice received a placebo or lovastatin (Mevacor) and then had their muscles tested. The researchers looked at the ability of the muscles to contract and measured all sorts of properties. They also looked at the muscles under a microscope to detect any changes in the number of fast- or slow-twitch fibers. The lovastatin group’s fast-twitch muscle fibers were abnormal in a number of ways.
The upshot? Could statins be poisoning our muscles in subtle ways that make our muscles less efficient? Could this be why we statin-pill-popping Americans just don’t feel like exercising? Another recent study showed lower peak muscle force in patients on statins that the authors attributed to muscle pain caused by the drugs. Could these weaker muscles also be due to fast-twitch muscle problems? More research is needed.