Research shows vitamin D helps with muscle function
Lowering cholesterol is very important for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
One class of medications that is commonly used to treat high cholesterol are statins. Used correctly, statins can effectively lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Unfortunately, one of the problems with statins is that almost one-third of users experience muscle pain, often severe enough to discontinue their use. The usual medical approach involves simply using a different statin or adding coenzyme Q10. There may be another solution … vitamin D.
Recent medical research has shown that vitamin D is important for good muscle function.
Indeed, in the healthy elderly who are vitamin D deficient, supplementation even with a small amount of vitamin D dramatically improves muscle strength and function.
Lower levels of vitamin D are associated with muscle pain, bone pain and decreased muscle function. When a vitamin D deficiency is combined with statin use, especially in the elderly, there is an increased risk of not only muscle pain but of a more serious condition, rhabdomyolysis.
Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition where the muscles die causing pain, inflammation and even renal failure. An early statin, Baycol, was taken off the market because of an increased risk of rhabdomyolysis.
Whatever your feelings about statins, they are useful because not everyone exercises enough, eats healthy food, gets enough sleep and reduces their stress. For those (unfortunately a lot of Americans), statins are a reasonable option to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, almost one in three users of statins refuses to take them because of muscle pain.
Over the past several years, there have been at least 10 medical studies linking muscle pain in statin users to low vitamin D levels. There have also been three studies disputing these claims.
In medical research, depending on how the study is conducted, the results can be contradictory, increasing the frustration of the general public. However, with vitamin D, statins and muscle pain, the research is more than three to one in favor of low vitamin D levels increasing the risk of statin -- related muscle pain.
In a recent medical study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 74 men and 72 women with a history of intolerance to statin medications secondary to muscle pain and low vitamin D levels were treated with 50,000-100,000 international units of vitamin D per week. After their vitamin D levels had normalized, the patients were put back on statin drugs. In all the patients their cholesterol levels fell significantly. What is more important is that over 90 percent of the patients did not experience the muscle pain that was associated with their earlier statin medication use.
I believe that the combination of traditional and nontraditional medicine -- integrative medicine -- is the ideal medical approach for chronic medical problems.
Not that long ago vitamin D supplementation was dismissed by the traditional medical community. Now there is medical research supporting its use and patients are benefiting.
• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.