The real reason statins cause muscle pain

Statins have side effects. If you’ve ever taken them, you probably know that all too well…

Maybe they made you constipated. Or gave you diarrhea.

Maybe they caused your blood sugar to skyrocket. Or gave you a headache.

Maybe they gave you a nosebleed. Or made your muscles hurt.

The last one is a biggie. Muscle pain is the most common side effect of statin drugs. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons people stop taking statins.

Now, if you’ve never taken statins, you might be thinking, what’s the big deal about a little muscle pain? But if you’ve experienced it, you know statin-related muscle pain can get pretty serious…

It can range from mild aching and discomfort to severe pain that prevents you from living your life. It can even cross into really dangerous territory — it can cause a life-threatening type of muscle damage known as rhabdomyolysis.

But the bigger question here is why the heck are statin drugs so hard on your muscles? And researchers may have finally figured out an answer…

Statins kill your muscle cells

Here’s something you may not know…

To lower your cholesterol, statins cause your body to produce more of an inflammation-suppressing protein called glucocorticoid-induced leucine zipper (GILZ). Since GILZ suppresses inflammation, you’d think having more around would be a good thing. But increasing GILZ has both positive and negative effects…

In a recent study, researchers from Saarland University in Germany found that increasing GILZ causes muscle cells to die quicker. It also inhibits the development of muscle fibers. How did they figure this out?

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Well, they suspected GILZ might be behind statins’ muscle-related side effects, so they examined some living muscle cells in their laboratory. They performed a variety of experiments where they applied statins to these cells. They also experimented with these cells’ ability to produce GILZ.

They found that the extra GILZ produced from statin drugs has a negative impact on muscle cells and fibers. In one experiment, they switched off a muscle cell’s ability to create GILZ then applied statins to the cell. Guess what happened?

When GILZ wasn’t an issue, statins had no impact on muscle cells, which means it’s almost certainly the factor making stain users’ muscles hurt.

Should you keep taking statin drugs?

Since statin drugs are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world, it’s alarming that they can kill muscle cells and prevent muscle fibers from developing. Especially considering the important role muscle mass plays in your overall health.

But high cholesterol and heart disease are nothing scoff at either. So, that leaves a lot of people in a pickle. What should you do?

First things first, if you’re taking statins and you want to stop, talk to your doctor before you do. It’s always wise to put a plan in place before stopping any medication.

You should also know that certain people are more at risk for muscle-related side effects than others. Women are more at risk, for example. So, are older people. People who are very physically active have a higher risk too. So, if you fall into one of these groups, be extra cautious when taking statins.

Whether you’re taking statins or not, focus on healthy eating to reduce inflammation, lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. In fact, a 2019 study found that eating a Mediterranean diet while taking statins reduces cholesterol and inflammation more effectively than statins alone. People in the study were able to rely on very low doses while diet did most of the work.

So, eating extra healthy is something to seriously consider — even if you’re not quite ready to give up statin drugs. It may help you lower your dose. And the fewer statins drugs you take, the lower your risk of side effects. Who knows? If you stick to the diet long enough, you may be able to give up statins altogether eventually.

Editor’s note: Cholesterol is a hormone your body needs for many processes including keeping your brain and sex hormones functioning properly. That’s just one reason that indiscriminately lowering it isn’t the best course. Can heart health co-exist with cholesterol? Done right, the answer is yes! Learn more in the Cholesterol Super-Brain, Hidden secret to using your mind’s most essential nutrient for optimal brain health, faster thinking and a picture-perfect memory—and more!

Sources:

  1. Statins: Researchers uncover how cholesterol-lowering drugs cause muscle pain — MedicalXpress
  2. The glucocorticoid‐induced leucine zipper mediates statin‐induced muscle damageThe FASEB Journal
  3. Statin side effects: Weigh the benefits and risks — The Mayo Clinic
  4. Side Effects of Statins — Healthline
  5. Side Effects: Statins — UK National Health Service

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.