Health & Wellness

Does taking cholesterol medication lead to 'pigging out'?

Mel Evans / Today
This photo shows 40 milligram tablets of Lipitor, one kind of statin used for lowering blood cholesterol.

Millions of people are taking statin medications to help lower their cholesterol. Now a new study suggests a surprising risk of long term statin use: weight gain.

These are not extra pounds attributed to a side-effect of the medication – the benefits of taking statins are widely established. Instead, this extra weight appears to come from added fat and calories consumed over a decade among statin users, when compared to non-statin groups.

This study, published Thursday in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at data from statin users and non-users from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database studied over a 10-year period. Using dietary recall, the researchers compared the two groups for daily calorie and fat intake over three time periods across a decade: between 1999-2000 (study start), 2005-2006 (mid-point) and at 2009-2010 (study end).

At the start of the study, the statin users consumed significantly fewer calories per day – nearly 200 less –when compared to the non-users: 2000 calories/day versus 2179 calories per day. They also consumed significantly less fat – about 10 grams daily.

At the end of the decade, over the 2009-2010 study period, non-statin users revealed no significant differences in the number of calories or fat consumed, compared with a decade earlier. In contrast, the statin users consumed 9.6 percent more calories and 14.4 percent  more fat at the end of the decade, compared with the start. Not surprisingly, body mass index (and weight) increased more in the statin users.

The bottom line? Statin users seem to be eating more calories and fat.

The results suggest that among some statin users, there is the misperception and false sense of security that a statin can offset the need for healthy eating, physical activity, and weight control. It does not. And these data continue to support this line of thought.