Do Statin Drugs Hinder The Effects Of Exercise? Probably Not…
One question I get often is from people recently put on an anti-cholesterol medication, generally one of the “statin” drugs. They are usually concerned about negative effects or if it will have a negative impact on their bodybuilding/fitnes efforts.
There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding these drugs. Possible side effects include liver dysfunction, muscle weakness, and in rare but severe cases, an actual destruction of muscle cells called rhabdomyolysis. These side effects depend on both the dose and statin being used, it should be noted, and the supplement CoQ10 may be able to counter many of the side effects of these drugs (but that topic is for another time).
OK, so from that, anyone reading the above would have to think “these drugs look terrible for bodybuilders and other athletes looking to gain muscle—I better avoid them!” But here’s the rub: for some not well understood reason, statins combined with resistance training may actually enhance the effects of hitting the weights! A study called “Statins and dietary and serum cholesterol are associated with increased lean mass following resistance training” done by at the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University came to some interesting conclusions regarding the effects of statins combined with weight training.
Interestingly, this group was looking at possible methods for countering age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) which affects millions of older adults and leads to disability and an increase in mortality. Strength training and improved diet are obvious strategies for preventing and or treating sarcopenia, yet those two interventions are not 100% successful—there is more to this age-related loss of muscle than simply a lack of exercise and poor nutrition. This is why researchers are looking at various drug, hormones, supplements, etc. to combat the condition.
This study looked at forty nine men and women between the ages of 60–69 years old who were put through two weeks of nutrition education followed by weight training three times per week for twelve weeks. They even gave them a post-exercise protein drink! Some very interesting results were found:
There was a dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol and increases in muscle mass.
Serum cholesterol—as well as the statin drug—were independently associated with greater increases in muscle mass.
Interestingly, increases in muscle mass were not affected by variability in protein intake in this study. It should also be noted that dietary cholesterol (e.g., the cholesterol they obtained from the foods they ate) was not associated with serum cholesterol. Translated, the cholesterol they ate did not appear to affect cholesterol in their blood, which is not an uncommon finding in nutritional research, actually.
The basic conclusion of the researchers was that dietary and serum cholesterol both contribute to an increase in muscle mass in response to weight training, and statins may improve this response.
How the statin drug augmented the effects of weight training was unclear. We know, however, that statins have effects separate from their ability to lower cholesterol (such as anti-inflammatory effects), so perhaps it enhanced the effects of weight training via some other mechanism.
Now, the participants in this study were older men and women, so it’s possible the effect will only be seen with this population group, but it bodes well, at least, for the many people on these drugs who also lift weights and are worried they may be harming their efforts in the gym.
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2007 Oct;62(10):1164-71.