Doctors often prescribe statins to control cholesterol levels. For this reason, statins have become one of the most regularly prescribed drugs for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases caused by high cholesterol levels. Let’s look at some common side effects of statins and how to reduce them.
Side Effects of Statins
Short-Term Side Effects
Here are some side effects of statins that you may experience as soon as you start taking them:
- Muscle aches and tenderness
- Sleep disorders
- Pain in the abdomen and cramping
- Flushing of the skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mental confusion
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels)
- Memory loss (rare)
Long Term Side Effects Of Statins
The long-term use of statins is associated with some rare, yet serious, side effects. These are:
Myositis (inflammation of the muscles)
This is the most common side effects of statins. Many patients experience soreness and weakness of the muscles and tiredness and many stop taking statins as a result of this discomfort. Some women may feel minor discomfort while others may experience severe pain, enough to make daily activities difficult. In certain extremely rare cases, statin use causes a muscle condition called “rhabdomyolysis” that causes severe muscle pain, damage to the liver and kidneys, and even death. The risks of myositis and rhabdomyolysis increase when certain drugs (like other cholesterol-reducing medicine) are taken along with statins, or if a higher dose of statins is taken.
Although very rare, a long-term side effect of statins is an increase the levels of enzymes that cause inflammation of the liver, and ultimately cause liver damage. If the damage is mild, doctors often ask to continue with the drug. But they need to regularly assess the levels of certain enzymes that reveal the state of liver health.
Type 2 diabetes
Statin use may increase blood sugar levels and cause full-blown type 2 diabetes. This is particularly worrisome for women with PCOS because they are already at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Damage to Nerves
In rare cases, long-term side effects of statins include neurological problems like memory loss and confusion in women. These side effects, however, resolve with stopping statin therapy.
An increased risk of developing cataract is one of the side effects of statins. Cataract is an eye condition in which the lens is clouded. It is a major reason for the loss of vision in the elderly.
Depletion of Nutrients
Long-term statin use can also deplete certain vital nutrients, such as Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin K2, from your body. While CoQ10 is used for the production of energy by cells of our body, vitamin K2 protects your arteries from plaques and hardening. K2 deficiency puts you at risk of health conditions like osteoporosis, cancer, kidney stones, brain disease and most ironically, heart disease.
Reduced Production of Ketones
Statins also reduce the production of ketone in the body. Ketone bodies provide several health benefits such as reducing blood glucose and insulin levels, suppressing hunger and food cravings, and improved mental health.
Impair Insulin Sensitivity In PCOS Patients
Statins are often prescribed for PCOS patients. As mentioned above, statins reduce cholesterol levels. Decreased cholesterol also reduces the production of androgens or male hormones. In women with PCOS, many health problems are a direct result of overproduction of male hormones.
A study presented at the 68th annual meeting of American Society of Reproductive Medicine showed that atorvastatin, a member of statins drug class, impaired insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. The study further advised that it should not be prescribed to PCOS patients unless “patients also demonstrate risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
How Do Statin Drugs Act?
Cholesterol synthesis is a complex multi-step process that occurs in the liver. Statins curb a crucial step of this process and they impair the activity of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase. This curbing results in lower cholesterol production as well as other biologically active compounds. This eventually helps in improving the lipid profile of patients and reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases.
In women, statin drugs also protect the ovaries from the harmful effects of excessive insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) receptors. Statins also show antioxidant activity which helps in reducing oxidative stress.
Types of Statins and Most Prescribed Names
- Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- Lovastatin (Altoprev)
- Fluvastatin (Lescol)
- Pitavastatin (Livalo)
- Pravastatin (Pravachol)
- Simvastatin (Zocor)
- Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
How To Reduce The Side Effects of Statins?
The first step is to find out whether the side effects are due to statins. For example, muscle fatigue can also be caused due to a severe vitamin D deficiency. Most side effects of statins are dose-dependent. The doctor may reduce your dosage if the side effects are severe enough to hamper daily activities. Also, your doctor may change the type of statin prescribed. For example, changing to fluvastatin can help reduce the problems with muscles as fluvastatin, though potent, is associated with lower muscle adverse effects.
Safety of Statins and Precautions to be Followed
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take statins. You need to tell your doctor about your allergies, or if you are taking other medicines, or you have diabetes or liver disease. Tell your doctor about any prescription medicines or supplements you are taking or plan to take in the future before starting statin therapy.
Do Statins Interact With Other Drugs?
Statins interfere with the efficiency of the following drugs:
- Amiodarone (a drug prescribed for patients of arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats)
- Gemfibrozil (another cholesterol-reducing drug)
- Antibiotics and antifungal agents (like clarithromycin and itraconazole)
- Anti-viral agents (like saquinavir and ritonavir) and
- Immunosuppressive medication (like cyclosporine)
Dietary Considerations While Taking Statins
Certain chemicals in grapefruit juice interact with enzymes required to break down statins in the body. If the enzymes don’t work properly, statins will not be cleared from the body effectively. They will remain for a longer time, which means their side effects will show for a longer time.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to eliminate grapefruit juice from your diet, because this interaction is dose and time-dependent. Just ask your doctor how much grapefruit juice is good for you and at what times. There are certain other fruits that might also increase statin absorption. These fruits include tangelos (hybrids of tangerines and grapefruit) and Seville Oranges (type of bitter oranges), and should be consumed only after consulting with your doctor.
Statin therapy will require you to get regular exercise, manage stress efficiently, and to quit smoking.