If you have a problem with high cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe statins. This is a class of medicines that helps you maintain a healthy level of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by altering how your liver produces cholesterol.
Statins are considered safe for most users, but women, people over 65, people who drink excessively, and people who have diabetes are more likely to experience side effects. These could include:
- liver injury with resulting elevation of liver enzymes
- increase in blood sugar or diabetes
- muscle pain and weakness, sometimes severe
What Does Vitamin D Do?
The relationship between statins and vitamin D has been studied to learn a couple of things. For example, vitamin D supplementation and a healthy diet have been shown to reduce cholesterol in limited research. Vitamin D also shows promise in improving cardiovascular health. It keeps bones strong by helping your body absorb calcium as well. It helps muscles move properly, and plays a role in how your brain communicates with the rest of your body.
You can get vitamin D through your diet by eating fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as egg yolks and fortified milk products. Your body also produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. Most adults need about 800 IU (international units) a day.
If you don’t get enough vitamin D, your bones can become brittle, and, later in life, you could develop osteoporosis. Deficiencies of vitamin D have been studied for a likely association with hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease, but as of yet the findings are not conclusive.
What Science Tells Us About Statins
How statins affect vitamin D levels is hard to pin down. The authors of one study suggest that the statin rosuvastatin increases vitamin D. That is still a matter of debate, however. In fact, there’s at least one other study showing just the opposite.
Other researchers argue that a person’s vitamin D levels could change for completely unrelated reasons. For example, they could be affected by how much clothing a person wears, or by how much sunlight a person gets in the winter months.
While researchers gather more information, what can you do if you’re considering taking statins or are already on them and concerned about the effect on your vitamin D levels? Your first step should be to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. Whether you’re on statins or not, you could be D deficient for a few reasons:
- You’re over 65 and your skin doesn’t produce as much vitamin D as it used to.
- You’re African-American or have darker skin.
- You work indoors so you don’t get much sun, or you cover much of your skin when you’re outside.
- You have a gastrointestinal condition like Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, or your blood vitamin D levels are deficient, consider taking supplements if your doctor approves. Then have your levels checked regularly. You can also change your diet to include more fatty fish and eggs. Only do this if those changes are compatible with keeping your cholesterol levels healthy.
If you have very limited sun exposure, you might be able to increase your vitamin D levels by spending more time in the sun, but be careful about overexposure. Several British health organizations have released a statement suggesting that less than 15 minutes outside in the British midday sun, while wearing no sunscreen, is a healthy limit. Since Britain’s sun is not the strongest, most of us should get even less.