For those struggling with dangerously high cholesterol, statin drugs were once thought to be practically a life-saver. One in four Americans over the age of 45 are currently taking statins, a medication designed to lower cholesterol levels. For years now doctors have been prescribing these drugs while telling patients to increase their exercise levels, also a proven technique to lower cholesterol. However, scientists have recently found that statins may not be the miracle cure they were hoping for.
Researchers gathered group of overweight sedentary individuals who were all suffering from various metabolic conditions. Their fitness levels were evaluated and they were each prescribed a supervised exercise program for 12 weeks and half of the participants were placed on the statin medication simvastatin, better known by its brand name Zocor. At the end of the 12-week period the participants had their fitness levels re-evaluated.
The hypothesized result was that the participants receiving the medication and undergoing the exercise routine would gain a higher level of fitness and reduce their cholesterol further than the group who didn’t receive the medication. However, researchers found that the medicated group showed only a marginal improvement, (barely 1 percent), in fitness as compared to those who didn’t receive the drug (10 percent). Furthermore, the aerobic capacity in the medicated group actually managed to decrease in some of the individuals, a result no one expected.
These results pose a troubling question. Do statins actually negate the effects of exercise? But this is not the first time researchers have questioned statins’ effects on fitness. Past studies have shown that lab rats given doses of statins were unable to run as far as unmediated animals, while other studies have found that marathon runners taking statins experienced more muscle damage after competing in the 26. 2 mile race than non-statin users
To help answer their questions, scientists examined the mitochondria of the participants in the study. The mitochondria are the energy-producing components of cells. When people exercise, these generally increase and become more efficient. The group who were not taking the statins showed a 13 percent increase in mitochondrial activity after taking up the exercise routine. However, the group taking Zocor experienced a 4.5 percent drop in mitochondrial activity, which is extremely troubling to scientists as low aerobic fitness is a major risk factor for premature death.
More research is needed to learn more about the effects of statins on aerobic fitness and the decision to take them or not is one that needs to be discussed with a medical professional. But it’s safe to say that if you want to get the most bang for your buck with each sweat session, skip the statins.
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