By: Robert M. Blair, Ph.D. – Strategic Research Scientist
Statins are powerful and effective medications that lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. While the statins are effective at lowering cholesterol levels, their use is associated with a high rate of patients who stop using them. One of the main reasons for discontinuing the use of statins is muscle pain, stiffness, tenderness, or cramping. In fact, it has been reported that 7 – 29% of patients taking statins complain of muscle symptoms  and that 65% of former statin users indicated that muscle-related side effects were the main reason for stopping their use .
To overcome the muscle-related side effects associated with statin use, it is common to either try a different statin, reduce the amount of statin to a maximum-tolerated dose, take statins every other day or so, or to use a combination of a lower dose of statins with a non-statin cholesterol-lowering medication .
As a possible alternative to these options, a recent study investigated the use of vitamin D to alleviate muscle pain associated with statin use . In this retrospective study, patients with low vitamin D blood levels, who had a history of statin-induced muscle pain, and who had received vitamin D replenishment prior to going back on statins were selected for analysis. Vitamin D replenishment consisted of a weekly loading dose of vitamin D for 8 – 12 weeks followed by a daily maintenance dose of 800 – 1,000 units daily.
The main objective of this study was to determine if replenishing low blood levels of vitamin D reduced statin-induced muscle pain upon restarting statin therapy. Additionally, changes in blood levels of vitamin D and lipid profiles were examined.
The results of this study showed that all 27 of the patients who met the study criteria were able to maintain statin therapy without experiencing muscle pain when they re-started it after vitamin D supplementation. Nearly 41% of the patients were able to tolerate statins that they couldn’t previously. Additionally, 22 – 30% of the patients were able to reach their cholesterol goals at the 12-month follow-up period.
Overall, this small study suggests that replenishing low blood levels of vitamin D may alleviate statin-induced muscle pain and thus help patients adhere to statin therapy and lower their blood cholesterol levels.
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