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Statins Are Linked with Fatigue

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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statins fatigue energy exertion

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/OtmarW

Cholesterol-lowering statins have been credited with preventing countless heart attacks among at-risk adults. More than 20 million U.S. adults now take statins daily, making them some of the top-selling drugs of all time. Recent research, however, has indicated that they might sometimes contribute to cognitive problems, such as confusion and memory loss. And new findings suggest that they might also be to blame for additional fatigue.

The new study followed 1,016 healthy adults, who were randomly assigned to take 20 milligrams of Zocor (simvastatin), 40 milligrams of Pravachol (pravastatin)—both relatively low doses—or a placebo every evening before bed for six months. At the end of the study period, they were asked to rate their energy levels and how they felt after exercising. Those who were taking the statins were more likely to report lower overall energy and more fatigue with exertion than those who had been randomized to the placebo. The findings were reported online June 11 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

“Occurrence of this problem was not rare—even at these doses,” Beatrice Golomb, of the Department of Medicine at University of California, San Diego, and co-author of the study, said in a prepared statement. Subjects taking the Zocor ended up with the lowest cholesterol but were more likely to report decreased energy. The effect was more common in women, she noted, with 40 percent of women reporting either this lower energy or more fatigue with exertion while taking the daily Zocor dose.

“Energy is central to quality of life,” said Golomb, who also worked on earlier research linking statins to cognitive impairments. “Exertional fatigue not only predicts actual participation in exercise, but lower energy and greater exertional fatigue may signal triggering of mechanisms by which statins may adversely affect cell health.”

Although the results will need to be replicated in larger trials, the researchers note that the findings should remind doctors and patients that it is important to weigh the pros and cons of starting on statins. Statins have also been noted to cause muscle and joint pain, nausea and other digestive problems. And the Mayo Clinic recommends other lifestyle actions to lower the risk of heart disease, including managing stress, exercising for half an hour a day, consuming a healthful diet and quitting smoking.

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. rgeiken 11:25 pm 06/11/2012

    I can say AMEN to the fatigue and lack of energy using Statins, namely Zocor. I also got tremendous back pain with them and couldn’t straighten up. I had taken them for a few years with no appreciable side effects, so the tremendous back pain caused me to examine the problems they were causing me. I gave them up several years ago, and now I am pretty much back to normal. I think that people that prescribe these things have never taken them themselves and cannot really relate to people who are suffering from Statins. I you enter Zocor or Statins in Google search, you will find a lot of pages where people report the same problems.

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  2. 2. doctordawg 3:24 am 06/12/2012

    Eventually, once all the billions in profits are wrung out of the statin hoax, we will finally treat the cause at the stem cell level, and not just the symptoms that cholesterol levels represents.

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  3. 3. JamesDavis 8:32 am 06/12/2012

    There is a Cholesterol-lowering herb called Gugulipid, 90 caps costs you $22.00 at a green pharmacy, and they do not have these bad and sometimes dangerous side effects. Before you get through the bottle of 90 capsules, they will stabilize your cholesterol and return it to normal, and it will not kill you if you stop using it.

    Since statins cause that horrible fatigue feeling and you do not feel like working out, then they also increases obesity and that leads to even more severe medical problems. It is always better to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol stable with natural substances like food, herbs and exercise. If you are looking for a reason to bring a lawsuit against a doctor or pharmacy, then stay with the statins, they will give you all the reasons you need.

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  4. 4. taysi 3:37 pm 06/12/2012

    As a slender, athletic, energetic and otherwise completely healthy woman who ate bushels of raw, organic vegetables, I was astonished to be told that I had “life-threatening” cholesterol levels. I was immediately put on simvastatins, and so began an awful saga. Within a month, my muscles and joints ached so severely that I couldn’t run or bike or practice yoga – nor did I have the energy to do so. It’s interesting to note that one of my daughters said that I smelled “like an old person,” and it made me wonder whether many of the infirmities of old age are a actually a result of the use of statins and other toxic chemicals?

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  5. 5. Xardox 4:03 pm 06/12/2012

    Familial metabolic syndrome and/or hyperlipidemia strikes even slender, athletic, energetic, and otherwise completely healthy women. It is nothing new that statins are frequently associated with fatigue and muscle weakness, which is also frequently associated with interaction with other medicines. If your doctor is unaware of this, find a real physician.

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  6. 6. uconnron 5:25 pm 06/12/2012

    Niacin, a B vitamin, has been found to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL (good cholesterol). It is very inexpensive and sold in health food stores. The only side effect is a feeling of bodily warmth and rosey skin (flush); effects that last about 30 minutes. You can opt for non-flush niacin, but it is less effective. I have tried it and found it to be very effective. The flush reaction diminishes with continued use.

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  7. 7. northernguy 12:26 am 06/13/2012

    We have evolved to manufacture cholesterol in our bodies for a reason. It is now fashionable to establish an arbitrary level of cholesterol as _normal_ and then try and manage blood levels to match that.

    To tell a fit, active, healthy woman to start taking drugs to change her baseline level without any other negative indicators present is reckless, even cruel given the highly probable side effects.

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  8. 8. ParrotSlave 5:04 am 06/13/2012

    “Recent research”? Did you people just step out of a time machine? A US patent, 4933165, was issued in 1989 for a way to counter statin-induced myopathy by co-administration with CoQ. That patent cites literature going back to 1980.

    The scientific references to the issue have not stopped: Manoukian, et al, in a 1990 article in Clinical Chemistry, reported rhabdomyolysis as a result of lovastatin therapy, and they speculated “that the rhabdomyolysis was due to mitochondrial damage secondary to inadequate synthesis of coenzyme Q and heme A, members of the electron-transport system of the inner mitochondrial membrane.” Since statins inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme that converts 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A to mevalonic acid, it makes sense that, since mevalonic acid is also a precursor for CoQ, statin administration should lower CoQ levels, and thereby reduce any biochemical activity dependent on CoQ.

    A UT group, Willis, et al, in a 1990 article in PNAS, studied the issue in rats, and reported “CoQ concentrations in all tissues analyzed were decreased in lovastatin-treated rats. Lovastatin-treated animals that were supplemented with CoQ10 had blood, heart, and liver CoQ10 concentrations that approximated or exceeded those of control animals. It is concluded that lovastatin does indeed lower tissue concentrations of CoQ and that a return to normal can be achieved by supplementation with CoQ.” This same group, in another 1990 PNAS article, suggested that, “The clinical use of lovastatin is to reduce a risk of cardiac disease, and if lovastatin were to reduce levels of CoQ10, this reduction would constitute a new risk of cardiac disease, since it is established that CoQ10 is indispensable for cardiac function.” They extended their rat studies to a very limited study of humans, and verified the rat findings.

    Pierno, et al, in a 1995 JPET article, implicated the lipophilicity of the individual statin in the myopathy; they measured electromyographic activity in the skeletal muscle fibers of a small group of rats, and found that a lipophilic statin caused a marked decrease in chloride conductance and an increase in potassium conductance. “Our results suggest that the risk of myopathy is much higher with the lipophilic simvastatin than with the hydrophilic pravastatin and support the hypothesis that the muscle toxicity of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors is due to an intracellular action mediated by the inhibition of muscle cholesterol synthesis.”

    Watts, et al, in a 1993 article in JCP concluded, “simvastatin may lower the plasma CoQ concentration and this may be greater than the reduction in cholesterol. The possible adverse effect of simvastatin on the metabolism of CoQ may be clinically important and requires further study.”

    You would think that studies of these sorts would have provoked immediate, independent analyses of the issue. We are talking about information that was available more than 2 decades ago. What appears to be an epidemic of encephalopathy within the medical community has apparently prevented these and numerous subsequent observations over these 20+ years from being completely studied and fully understood, although, strangely enough, they have fostered an “alternative” CoQ bandwagon. It is really difficult to defend science and medicine against the growing anti-science, anti-medicine movement when stupidity on such a colossal scale reigns: this issue should have been resolved long ago. I don’t know whether co-administration of CoQ will solve some or all of the issues involved, but I suspect that we ought to outlaw the sale of statins unless they are co-compounded with CoQ.

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  9. 9. jerryd 6:49 am 06/13/2012

    I’ve been yelling about this for 8 yrs now. My incompendent doctor put me on Lipitor which within 2 months made me bedridden. I stopped talking it and the muscle problems went away. My doctor tried to make me keep taking it even though it likely would have killed me and likely killed my mother who took it and was thought to have fibromilgia. One has to wonder just how many others are too.

    Next I was switched to Zocor which caused deep depression within 2 months, stopped and problem disappeared in 2 weeks.

    Niacin isn’t that good and terrible side effects.

    I just starting eat 1500calories/day and all my colesterol, BP and other problems have greartly reduced or gone. Now if I can only get my back to work better.

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  10. 10. david463 5:10 pm 06/13/2012

    Statins raised my pancreatic enzymes, lipase and amylase. This made me sick. I have tried niacin. It raised my blood sugar. Subsequent studies have shown niacin to be ineffective in cholesterol management. Statins are not for me and luckily my cholesterol is under 200.

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  11. 11. JacobSilver 8:47 pm 06/13/2012

    It is dietary cholesterol which causes thrombosis. Statins only reduce natural cellular cholesterol, which is needed for cell membrane maintenance and the formation of scabs when there is surface injury. And Statins also interfere with the process of producing co-enzyme Q10 and another molecule which supports neuron transmissions. So, it does nothing to cure hypercholesterol, and it interferes with the body’s energy and nervous systems. It is less than useless. No wonder it makes millions for the pharmaceutical industry.

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  12. 12. mcdee 8:51 pm 06/13/2012

    Having suffered severe adverse effects from taking
    statins 12 months ago, in desperation I scanned the
    internet hopeing for some good news. I came across a
    website (spacedoc.com) The story of a medical doctor,and astronaut, who had a reaction to statins.This is a horror
    story, and as I read it,I realized, hell this is me! The
    good doctor, however, did offer some good advice, which I have followed to my advantage.However, some of the problems will be with me for life.

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  13. 13. Joseph C Moore, Cpo USN Ret 10:48 am 06/14/2012

    Statins are a monetary hoax foisted on a naive, trusting public by drug studies (selectively done by the drug companies), the congress (for the lobby money of the drug companies) and the federal health (?) organizations that congress has unconstitutionally enacted) (by virtue of the lobby money). The health hazards of statins far out weigh the supposed benefits to the consumer. Treatment of symptoms (real or supposed) instead of Prevention of disease is the money making purpose of nearly all drugs. Alternative strategies are discouraged (or outlawed) per se: “Only a Drug can cure a disease” (this is LAW).

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  14. 14. bucketofsquid 4:24 pm 06/18/2012

    Interesting conspiracy theories. Statins are working fine for me and the fatigue is minimal. Statins nearly killed my mom recently and caused issues for my dad too.
    The problem is that drugs are shotgunned out to potential patients without detailed profiles to indicate if the specific patient is likely to benefit or suffer. The lack of a complete biological profile of each person is the real culprit.

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  15. 15. FredPotter 11:56 am 09/5/2012

    I was given 80mg/day of simvastatin. Yes 80! About 6 years ago. When I complained of symptoms it was changed to an equivalent dose of atorvastatin. I gave them up about 5 years ago. Now I have cerebellar ataxia, poor balance, cannot exercise apart from about 15 minutes shopping. The worst is the fatigue and exhaustion. I am stuck with it as stopping statins was too late to mend the (mitochondrial?) damage

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