Statins are used to lower cholesterol. These drugs work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol; they may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up on artery walls. Statin medications include the well-known drugs atorvastatin, or Lipitor, simvastatin, or Zocor, lovastatin, or Mevacor, pravastatin, or Pravachol and rosuvastatin, or Crestor. Like all medications, statins have side effects and may affect your weight.
Statins can cause liver damage and muscle problems; although not common, these are the most dangerous side effects. The most common side effects from statins are muscle and joint aches, but other side effects include nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Two less well known side effects are problems with cognition – thinking – and problems with sleep. Since you will probably need to take the statin for the rest of your life, managing side effects is important.
Statins and Sleep
One statin medication, simvastatin, has definitely been linked with sleep problems. According to Dr. Beatrice Golomb, the lead researcher on “The Statin Study,” patients on simvastatin are more likely to have sleep disruption and poor sleep quality. Dr. Golomb reported on these findings at an American Heart Association meeting in 2007. It is this side effect, which may be related, first, to a tendency to gain weight while on simvastatin, and second, to a tendency to lose the weight when the drug is discontinued. Research shows sleep problems can promote weight gain.
One study reported in the November 2006 issue of “American Journal of Epidemiology” noted that data from the Nurses’ Health Study showed women who slept less were more likely to gain weight over time irrespective of diet and exercise. The Nurses’ Health Study has been ongoing since 1986. A much shorter study of Japanese men found that men who slept less than 5 hours a night were almost twice as likely to become obese within one year. Men who slept 5 to 6 hours a night were one and a half times more likely to become obese. However, this study did not show a similar effect for women. Mayumi Watanabe, Ph.D. reported these results in the February 2010 issue of “Sleep.” In both studies, people who slept 7 to 8 hours a night were less likely to become obese.
Considerations and Warnings
If you have high cholesterol, there are a number of options available that can lower it. Some are lifestyle-related such as weight loss and exercise. If your doctors prescribes statin medications, you should not stop taking them. Although they do have side effects, each medication is different and it may take several trials to find the right one for you. If you have questions or concerns, consult with a health care professional.