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Study Finds that Statins may Stall Exercise Benefits in Obese Adults

May 23, 2013

Statins, drugs prescribed to reduce blood cholesterol levels, may actually minimize exercise benefits in obese adults, a new study reported.

Statins are considered best-selling drugs worldwide and are prescribed to people diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, which is a dangerous health condition that includes excess body fat and/or high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and/or high cholesterol, according to Medical News Today. Statins are prescribed to reduce cholesterol to prevent potentially fatal blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

Drugs in the statin class are known to carry increased risks for myopathy (severe muscle damage) and should be prescribed with caution and at the lowest possible effective dose to reduce risks for these side effects.

New University of Missouri (MU) research has found that simvastatin—sold under the brand Zocor—minimized any positive effects from exercise in obese or overweight adults, according to Medical News Today. "Fitness has proven to be the most significant predictor of longevity and health because it protects people from a variety of chronic diseases," said John Thyfault, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at MU. "Daily physical activity is needed to maintain or improve fitness, and thus improve health outcomes. However, if patients start exercising and taking statins at the same time, it seems that statins block the ability of exercise to improve their fitness levels," he told Medical News Today.

Cardiologists should closely consider the risk-benefit profile of statins based on this new data, Thyfault recommended, according to Medical News Today. "Statins have only been used for about 15-20 years, so we don't know what the long-term effects of statins will be on aerobic fitness and overall health," Thyfault said. "If the drugs cause complications with improving or maintaining fitness, not everyone should be prescribed statins."

The team measured cardiorespiratory fitness in 37 previously sedentary obese people, aged 25 to 59, who had low fitness levels. Participants followed the same exercise regimen on the MU campus for 12 weeks; 18 participants took 40 mg of Zocor each day, said Medical News Today.

Statins significantly impacted exercise outcomes, the study found. In the exercise-only group, participants experienced an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness by about 10 percent. In the statin group, the increase was just 1.5 percent. Skeletal muscle mitochondrial content (where muscle cells turn oxygen into energy) fell in the statin group by 4.5 percent, and increased by 13 percent—considered a normal response following exercise training—in the exercise-only group, according to the Medical News Today report.

A BMJ article looked at the association between statins and kidney damage, as we recently reported. Researchers reviewed data from over 2 million patients’ records, from 1997 to 2008, which originated from databases in Canadian provinces, the United States and the United Kingdom. The review included a focus on Zocor, Lipitor, and Crestor (rosuvastatin). Researchers concluded that patients prescribed these high-potency statins exhibited increased risks for hospitalization for acute kidney injury when compared to patients taking lower-potency statins. The researchers urged physicians to consider this risk when considering patient treatment options when patients’ kidney injury risks persisted for at least two years.

We also reported that people who take statins may face an increased risk for developing age-related cataracts. The prior study found that the association between statins and cataracts could be the same as for Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a known risk factor for age-relegated cataracts. The finding is significant because statin use is typically greater among Type 2 diabetics compared to the general population.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has also warned that statins not only raise blood sugar levels, but may also cause memory loss. Statin labels were updated to reflect this potential side effect. Also, analysis of previously conducted clinical trials cast doubt on statin efficacy, specifically Crestor, in the prevention of blood clots. A prior ScienceDaily report indicated that some 30 previous trials of statin drugs revealed that the drugs are barely effective at preventing blood clots, if at all.

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