University of Missouri researchers have found that a popular cholesterol-lowering drug, typically prescribed to prevent heart disease, may actually hinder the positive benefits of exercise among obese and overweight adults.
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The finding that simvastatin — a generic type of statin sold under the brand name Zocor — may cut the benefits of exercise underscores new questions about the pros and cons of taking such cholesterol-lowering medicines.
"Fitness has proven to be the most significant predictor of longevity and health because it protects people from a variety of chronic diseases," said John Thyfault, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at MU.
"Daily physical activity is needed to maintain or improve fitness, and thus improve health outcomes. However, if patients start exercising and taking statins at the same time, it seems that statins block the ability of exercise to improve their fitness levels."
Thyfault noted many cardiologists want to prescribe statins to all patients over a certain age; they are also recommended for people with type 2 diabetes. But the new study suggests cardiologists more closely weigh the benefits and risks of statins.
"Statins have only been used for about 15-20 years, so we don't know what the long-term effects of statins will be on aerobic fitness and overall health," Thyfault said. "If the drugs cause complications with improving or maintaining fitness, not everyone should be prescribed statins."
For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Thyfault and his colleagues tracked the fitness levels of 37 previously sedentary, obese individuals — ages 25-59 — after they started an exercise regimen that lasted 12 weeks. Half of the participants also took 40 mg of simvastatin daily.
The results showed the statins significantly affected participants' exercise outcomes. Participants in the exercise-only group increased their fitness by an average of 10 percent compared to a 1.5 percent increase among those prescribed statins.
Additionally, measurements of the participants muscle cells showed the non-statin group experienced a 13 percent increase in their bodies ability to turn oxygen into energy — a typical response following exercise — compared to a 4.5 percent decrease in individuals taking statins.
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Thyfault suggested that future research determine whether lower doses of simvastatin or other types of statins similarly affect people's exercise outcomes and their risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
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