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Potential Cause of Statin-Produced Muscle Pain Revealed

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Researchers at Copenhagen University in Denmark identified a possible cause for muscle pain encountered by people taking a leading statin drug for control of cholesterol. The team from the university’s Center for Healthy Aging, led by Flemming Dela, reported its findings in this month’s issue of the Journal of American College of Cardiology.

Statins are prescribed mainly to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood, as well as increase the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. Harvard Health says in 2010, half of men in the U.S. age 65-74 reported taking statins in the previous 30 days, along with four in 10 women (39%) in the U.S. age 75 or older. Copenhagen University says 600,000 Danes are taking statins, including 30 to 40 percent of the country’s population age 65 or older.

The Copenhagen team investigated the mechanisms contribution to the high incidence of muscle pain associated with statins. “Up to 75 per cent of the physically active patients undergoing treatment for high cholesterol experience pain,” says Dela. “This may keep people away from either taking their medicine or from taking exercise, both of which are bad choices.”

The researchers specifically investigated the effect of statins, in this case the drug simvastatin, on the production of energy in the muscles, and thus the cause of subsequent weakness and pain. Simvastatin is marketed under the brand name Zocor by Merck, as well as in generic versions. The study involved 20 male subjects, 10 taking simvastatin to treat their cholesterol conditions and 10 healthy volunteers as a control group.

Dela and colleagues found from tests on muscle biopsies that the patients treated with simvastatin had an impaired tolerance of glucose, compared to the healthy subjects, with low levels of Q10, a protein produced by the body and needed for basic cell basic functioning. The researchers say these conditions lead to a compromised energetic state in the muscles, which may explain the side effects of muscle pain (myalgia) and the inability to exercise.

Dela says based on these findings, his group plans a larger research project of people taking statins. “We will look at statin consumption from a medical point of view,” says Dela, “and will also investigate the media’s influence on patients’ acceptance or rejection of statins as a treatment option.”

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