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Cholesterol Medications May Defeat Exercise Programs

Not every medical problem is cured by a pill.
Not every medical problem is cured by a pill.

When I first wrote about cholesterol medications (statins) in 2007, I had serious concerns about how they were being marketed. Clinical research showed there were extremely small benefits from taking a daily prescription. The negative side effects were glossed over and the huge benefits of proper diet and exercise were being ignored.

Over the years, it's gotten even worse.

If you take the drug Vytorin you're told it'll help lower your cholesterol. That's true. What the drug company doesn't mention is that it has "never been shown to reduce heart attacks or deaths."

You read that right. According to John Abramson, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, "You can lower cholesterol levels with a drug, yet provide no health benefits whatsoever, and dying with a corrected cholesterol level is not a successful outcome in my book."

It gets worse. More than a dozen studies now show that an otherwise healthy person with no symptoms or history of heart disease will NOT benefit from taking statins. NO benefit. Zero, zip, nada.

Clinical research also shows that increasing "good" cholesterol may be overrated. A study published in 2012 showed that people with naturally higher HDL or "good" cholesterol didn't have any extra protection from heart attacks than people with regular levels of HDL.

Researchers believe that healthy activities like exercise, losing weight and avoiding smoking (which all increase HDL) also protect against heart attacks. The HDL wasn't actually providing any protection; it was simply a sign that other healthy things were taking place that would lead to lower heart attacks. Simply being born with higher HDL won't help; you have to live a healthier life to get the benefit.

The bad news keeps on coming. Now researchers have found that statin users are 9% more likely to develop diabetes than non-statin users.

Then in April (2013) the news got even worse. In an important study carried out by the Division of Cardiology at Duke University Medical Center, researchers found out that statins dramatically REDUCE the effectiveness of a cardio workout.

A group of volunteers, who had not exercised the previous year, went in and walked or jogged on a treadmill for 45 minutes, five times a week at 65 to 70 percent of their aerobic maximum. Everyone was asked not to change his or her diet over the 3-month program.

Half the volunteers started taking a 40-milligram dose of simvastatin (sold under the brand name Zocor), while the other half did not.

At the end of the 12-week program, the exercise group taking the statins gained barely a single percent (on average) in their fitness. The group not on statins improved by more than 10 percentage points. Some of the volunteers who exercised on statins actually had LESS aerobic capacity at the end of the study than they started with.

Here's why it's such a problem. Over the years researchers have found that if you improve your aerobic fitness through exercise, even by a small percentage, you can reduce your chances of dying prematurely by as much as 50 percent. This study seems to show if you're taking statins, the drug may actually be working to severely reduce the effectiveness of exercise.

Muscle biopsies gave researchers a clue at what was happening. The people taking statins had a 4.5 percent DECREASE in an important enzyme that's associated with the health of the energy producing part of a cell. People who weren't taking statins saw those enzyme levels INCREASE by 13 percent. Without that critical enzyme, researchers believe it was tougher for cells to thrive.

High cholesterol is a serious medical condition. We are not advocating you start or stop any medication based on these clinical trial results. What we want is for you to have a serious talk with your doctor to see if statins are something you really need, or if you may benefit more by simply eating healthier food and getting a little exercise.

To learn more about cholesterol, click here.

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