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Did You Know? Statin Drugs Can Cause Nerve Damage

     

It’s not really a secret, but it’s not something you hear much about. The same statin drugs that reduce cholesterol can cause peripheral neuropathy—damage to the nerves in your arms, legs, feet and fingers signaled by burning, tingling, and numbness.

A researcher from Denmark, David Gaist, M.D., was one of the first to report it. His work was published in the journal, Neurology, in 2002. He found that people who were taking a statin drug at the time of his study had a 16.1-fold increased risk of neuropathy compared to people not taking . And people who had taken for two or more years had 26.4 times more risk. The larger the dose of the drug, the higher the risk. (Neurology 2002; 58;1333-1337.) The study is summarized on the American Academy of Neurology’s website.

Still, U.S. doctors have tended to discount these findings, says David Perlmutter, M.D., a neurologist, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and director of the Perlmutter Health Center, in Naples, Florida. “These drugs are big money makers, and many doctors turn a blind eye to things they do not want to see,” he says. “These drugs are supposed to be used only after strict diet and lifestyle recommendations have failed, but in this country, the whole message about diet and exercise has been lost and we are paying the price for it. We have medical offices filled with patients with muscle and from statin drugs.” And when nerves are damaged, “it can be very challenging to heal the situation,” Dr. Perlmutter says. It can take a year or even longer to see improvement, but it can happen.

Here’s what you can do if you have statin-induced neuropathy.

  • Talk to your doctor about getting off statin drugs. Make the effort to lower your cholesterol naturally. People can lower their LDL cholesterol up to 40 points as well as increase HDL cholesterol by using dietary means such as eating less saturated fat and more soluble fiber, taking policosanol (a supplement derived from a waxy plant material), fish oil (getting 1,000 mg a day of DHA), and  getting regular exercise, Dr. Perlmutter says. If you’ve given diet and exercise your best effort and still feel that you need statins, take the lowest dose possible.
  • Take alpha lipoic acid (at least 500 mg a day). Alpha lipoic acid is a powerful fat- and water-soluble antioxidant which has performed well in studies of diabetic neuropathy. Alpha lipoic acid increases nerve blood flow, improves nerves’ ability to take up sugar for energy, increases amounts of a powerful antioxidant, glutathione, in nerves, and improves nerve conduction.
  • Take CoQ10. The main reason for statin-caused nerve damage is depleted CoQ10 levels, Dr. Perlmutter says. CoQ10 is needed for energy production and antioxidant protection in the cells’ energy-producing mitochondria. Take 300 mg a day. Take that same amount of CoQ10 if you are taking red yeast rice to reduce cholesterol.
  • Make sure you get enough vitamin B12. Any deficiency of this nerve-protecting B vitamin will cause neuropathy. Dr. Perlmutter gives vitamin B12 injections initially, then, once levels are restored, 500-1,000 mcg a day by mouth of methylcobalamin, the most active form of B12.

Other nutrients that can also improve symptoms of neuropathy: magnesium, acetyl-l-carnitine and acetyl-l-cysteine.

The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Statin-induced neuropathy is real and too often ignored by doctors. Try a natural approach first. And if you must take statin drugs, follow these guidelines for prevention and treatment and you’ll be less likely to be hurt by statin drugs.


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Article updated on: February 4th, 2010

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13 Responses to “ Did You Know? Statin Drugs Can Cause Nerve Damage ”

  1. Anne on April 30, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Good information except for the part about reducing saturated fats. In a recent issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition there is a meta-analysis concluding there is very little evidence that saturated fat is associated with heart disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648 One would do better by reducing high carbohydrate foods as these increase triglycerides and small particle LDL .

  2. bruceleavitt on April 30, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    I've been taking alpha lipoic acid ever since I read Jean's book on this powerhouse supplement. It completely extinguished the almost unbearable burning sensation in my feet caused by PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY. But that wasn't the only benefit. I had an unexpected “side effect” that would make anyone with this condition hoot and holler with joy. My every-night bouts of RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME stopped within a week of starting the regimen. At first I didn't make the connection. But when I ran out of ALA about a year later and failed to restock it for ten days, my feet caught fire again (no surprise) and my restless legs reclaimed and destroyed my nights. I got right back on ALA and BOTH quality-of-life killers vanished. That's when I figured out the obvious: ALA not only handled my flaming neuropathy — it was ALA that completely wiped out my Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms.

    

I recommend that anybody who has peripheral neuropathy or RLS give ALA a try. It could change your life. I know it certainly changed mine.

    • StopAgingNow on April 30, 2010 at 3:57 PM

      Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience! We actually reported recently on supplements that can help with nighttime leg cramps and RLS, although ALA was not included in that list. ALA is truly an amazing supplement.

  3. [...] rice supplements for at least four weeks and were intolerant to statins. All participants had noted adverse effects associated with the drugs such as muscle pain and gastrointestinal [...]

  4. athikities supabiola on July 10, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    If you feel abnormal at your foots,don't ignore it.You have to learn for amall fiber neuropathy at http://www.small-fiber-neuropathy.com/

  5. [...] statin drugs may help reduce LDL levels, some only reduce risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) by a mere 25%. [...]

  6. Nightwatcher6969 on October 29, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    My stinking doctors refuse to admit that my sever neuropathy is caused by statins. I didn’t even have high cholesterol when the veterans adminstration prescribed statins for me. My total was only 173 and no other at risk factors for heart disease. Now, I have painful P.N. and I am so angry that this was done to me. I am confined to a wheel chair because of this. When will the almighty American Doctors admit that doctors in other countries may know more than they do? Didn’t we just go through this with the antibiotic ulcer treatment?..

  7. [...] my newest book Real Cause, Real Cure (published in July by Rodale), I detail the many common side effects of statins. They include muscle pain (myalgia), fatigue, exercise intolerance (muscles too painful and weak to [...]

  8. [...] CoEnzyme Q10 and the over-the-counter hormone supplement, Pregnenolone, can also help reverse muscle pain from taking a statin. [...]

  9. [...] fact, statin drugs are the worst culprits in robbing the body of CoQ10. Unfortunately, few doctors warn their patients that by taking a [...]

  10. [...] is essential to heart and brain health. Some studies have associated statin drug use with even more serious health consequences including permanent nerve damage, infertility and [...]

  11. Lauriew83 on March 5, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    I have been an RN for 37 years, worked in pediatrics, adults, hospitals and mostly home care. I used to be unsure of myself when I noticed in the early 90′s that it seemed that insurances started deciding our care. Well the proliferation of meds in the 90′s has lead to many unsure side effects now in the teens of this decade. Every pt. I see, has at least 10-15 meds. My concern now is the ineffecient way communication with doctors and specialists take place. I never see physicians look at meds and really think about what they are doing to patients. Just more meds are ordered. My husband had polio at 9 mos. old. He is now 63. He had bypass surgery 16 yrs ago, has been on a statin among other meds, over the past decade… for the past 3 1/2 yrs we have consulted his primary doc, specialists… for symptoms that began increasing and became quite debilitating. Very hot burning feeling under his skin from the chest up intolerance to brightness, very cold feet and vibrating in extemeties. We have other side effects he has had to other meds, but I want to emphasize this particular situation. We saw a neurologist also, other meds were added to try to change the way his brain was perceiving his nerve endings, as he was diagnosed with autonomic nervous system disorder. He finally became so disgusted when he became more light headed, stumbley, and still had the initial problems. He went off all his meds, including the ones for cardiac. Within 10 days he was better, we resumed the meds after 3 weeks and 5 days later you could see the symptoms come back more and more hour by hour. I pulled out the statin… in 4 days gradually all the symptoms went away. We lost almost 4 yrs in our relationship with the stress this caused, the loss of work, and what really irritates me to no end…. no medical professional seems to care…. Patients should not be asked, do you have and allergies to meds, but DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR SIDE EFFECTS TO MEDS? Even when pts. bring in their list of meds…. they are never looked at after they are put in the computer. Finally I have found some documentation regarding these symptoms!

  12. dale on March 14, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    Hi. I was conned into taking crestor for approx 8 years despite having seroius issues taking them. I was super fit and healthy prior to seering doctors. I have all the bad effects including neuropathy of hands and feet which felt like tendon tearing at first and then progress to burning pain and numbness. It started on the top my hands. Also hip, knee, shoulder and the last is severe brain fog, chronic fatigue. Went to speacilists, other drs. All are in denial. I recently stopped taking them albeit 8 years too late. I bought my cholesterol down in 20 days by dramaticaly changing my diet. My liver is now excellent as it is not being bombarded with statins, my pre diabetes( another attribute of statins) had disappeared. Alas i am now poisoned for life thanks to poor medical science, Big business and idiot doctors.