If you have a problem with high cholesterol, your doctor might prescribe statins. This class of medications helps you maintain a healthy level of LDL (bad) cholesterol by altering how your liver produces cholesterol.

Statins are considered safe for most people, but some groups of people who take them are more likely to experience side effects. These groups include:

Statins cause side effects, such as:

Muscle pain and weakness are the most common side effects.

The nocebo effect

A February 2021 study suggests that statins themselves don’t cause muscle pain. Instead, it’s the expectation of muscle pain that causes muscle pain.

When you expect a treatment to make you feel worse and you end up experiencing negative side effects, it’s known as the nocebo effect.

Vitamin D has a variety of benefits.

Effect on cholesterol levels

Limited research shows that vitamin D supplementation may help reduce cholesterol levels.

Postmenopausal women participating in a 2014 study were given a placebo or an oral supplement containing calcium and vitamin D3.

The women who took the supplement had lower levels of LDL cholesterol. They also had higher blood levels of 25OHD3. This form of vitamin D is associated with higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower levels of LDL cholesterol.

Effect on cardiovascular health

Vitamin D also shows promise in improving cardiovascular health.

According to a 2015 literature review, having low levels of vitamin D increases your risk of cardiovascular problems. An increase in vitamin D was associated with benefits such as reduced blood levels of triglycerides, a form of fat.

Effect on bone health

Vitamin D keeps bones strong by helping your body absorb calcium. It helps muscles move properly and plays a role in how your brain communicates with the rest of your body.

If you don’t get enough vitamin D, your bones can become brittle, and you could develop osteoporosis later in life.

Other effects

Deficiencies of vitamin D have been studied for a likely association with hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. As of yet, the findings aren’t conclusive.

How to get more vitamin D

You can get vitamin D through your diet by eating egg yolks, fortified milk products, mushrooms, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. Your body also produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun.

Most adults need 600 international units (IU) a day.

It’s hard to pin down how statins affect vitamin D levels, and vice versa.

Effect of statins on vitamin D

The authors of a 2011 study suggest that taking the statin rosuvastatin (Crestor) increases your levels of 25OHD3. That’s still a matter of debate, however. In fact, there’s at least one other study showing that rosuvastatin has little effect on vitamin D levels.

A large 2020 study looked at the effect of statins on the vitamin D levels of older adults (with an average age of 69.5 years old). Those who took statins, including rosuvastatin, had notably higher levels of 25OHD3 and total 25OHD than those who didn’t take statins. When vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 levels are combined, you get the 25OHD levels.

Further analysis showed that there was little difference in the 25OHD levels of statin users and nonusers when dietary intake of vitamin D was at least 400 IU a day. When dietary intake was below 400 IU, statin users experienced a greater increase in 25OHD levels than nonusers did.

Other researchers argue that a person’s vitamin D levels could change for reasons that are completely unrelated to statin intake. For example, a person’s vitamin D levels could be affected by how much clothing they wear or how much sunlight they get during the winter months.

Effect of vitamin D on statins

A small 2016 study concluded that people who had low vitamin D levels were more likely to experience the muscle-related side effects of statins. Vitamin D supplementation led to better tolerance of statins.

A 2017 study looked at statin use among people with HIV and also concluded that vitamin D deficiency increased the risk of muscle-related side effects.

Another 2017 study on people with HIV found that vitamin D deficiency also reduced the effectiveness of rosuvastatin.

While researchers gather more information, what can you do if you’re considering taking statins, or are already on them, and you’re concerned about their 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 vitamin D-deficient for a few reasons:

  • You’re over 65 years old 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 such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.

If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, or your blood levels of vitamin D are too low, consider taking supplements if your doctor approves. Then have your levels checked regularly.

You can also change your diet to include more foods rich in vitamin D.

If you have very limited sun exposure, you might be able to increase your vitamin D levels by spending more time in the sun. Be careful about overexposure, though.

Between 10 and 15 minutes outside in the midday sun two or three times per week, while wearing no sunscreen, is a standard recommendation. People with darker skin will need to spend an even longer period of time in the sun to produce adequate levels of vitamin D.

Getting your vitamin D from a variety of sources (like supplements, your diet, and the sun) is the best way to ensure your levels are sufficient.