Muscle pain is a common side effect for many people who take statins to treat their high cholesterol. Low levels of a key protein could be the cause, according to a small study by Danish researchers at the Center for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen.
“Up to 75 per cent of the physically active patients undergoing treatment for high cholesterol experience pain. This may keep people away from either taking their medicine or from taking exercise – both of which are bad choices,” said Flemming Dela, MD, who co-authored the study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.
Through a study of 20 male participants, researchers found a possible causal link of the muscle pain associated with simvastatin, a widely used statin sold under the brand name Zocor. Patients who took simvastin were found to have low levels of the Coenzyme Q10 protein. Coenzyme Q10 is found in every body cell and plays a critical role in the production of energy. The scientists say low levels of Q10, coupled with an impaired glucose tolerance, may be the reason for the muscle pain.
“We have now shown that statin treatment affects the energy production in muscles. We are working on the assumption that this can be the direct cause of muscle weakness and pain in the patients,” said Dela.
Statins are used as a weapon against both stroke and cardiovascular disease by reducing the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. Cholesterol is a wax-like fat substance that causes plaque to build on artery walls. Plaque buildup decreases blood flow to and from the heart, and can eventually block an artery completely, causing heart attacks. By restricting the liver’s ability to manufacture cholesterol, statins are used to treat patients with high levels of cholesterol.
About 30 million Americans take statins. In February 2012, the Food and Drug Administration revised safety labeling on some statins, because of side effects such as muscle pain, cramps and memory loss.
A recent study at the San Diego School of Medicine at the University of California reported that muscle problems associated with statins were linked to the potency or strength of the drug.