(Why I) Count Calories, Not Just Carbs

Crate of veggiesWhenever someone gets diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) nowadays, the first thing that an educator or dietitian tries to teach them is how to count carbohydrates (carbs). Although I have been living with T1D now for almost half a century, I have to admit that I don’t count carbs. Not only that, but I personally don’t think carb counting works very well! But I also don’t avoid them.

The whole point of counting carbs is to try to balance the dose of mealtime insulin with carb intake to avoid post-meal spikes in blood glucose or hypoglycemia later on. Carbs are digested and fully absorbed within one to two hours after you eat them, and they undeniably have the most direct and dramatic impact on blood glucose levels. All carbs get broken down into simple sugars (glucose, fructose, or galactose), and the latter two (fructose and galactose) can easily be converted into glucose, which is the primary simple sugar in blood.

The problem I see with carb counting is two-fold: first, not all carbs are equal with regard to their glycemic effect (how much they raise blood glucose and how quickly) and; second, carbs are not the only component of food that can affect your blood glucose levels. Foods with a higher glycemic index (GI, found on glycemicindex.com) cause more rapid spikes in blood glucose after you eat them, but it also depends on the total amount of carbs in what you eat (the GL, or glycemic load). For example, carrots have a high GI, but their GL is fairly low, meaning that you would have to eat a lot of them to raise your blood glucose much. Pasta, on the other hand, is digested more slowly and has a moderate GI, but the load can be tremendous and enough to raise your blood glucose slowly for hours afterward.

In the first 18 years when I had diabetes without a blood glucose meter, I was taught to make every meal a balanced one (carbs, protein, and fat) and only have a certain number of servings in each category. I naturally gravitated away from eating fewer highly processed carb foods (made with white flour and white sugar) and more towards foods that didn’t make me feel crappy after eating them because they had a lower GI. To this day, I eat a lot of high-fiber, low-carb veggies (green ones like lettuce, green beans, and broccoli), only moderate amounts of starchy veggies (like corn, peas, and potatoes), and very few white carbs with a high GI. Honestly, if I were to count carbs and dose with mealtime (bolus) insulin for them, I would end up low after every meal and high later on due to how slowly my meals cause my blood glucose to rise!

The second part of the issue relates to the fact that intake of protein and fat can also impact insulin needs and blood glucose. Excess protein is turned into glucose and raises blood glucose within three to four hours after you eat it. This works well when you’re trying to prevent later-onset hypoglycemia, but not so well when you don’t have the insulin in your body to cover the rise in blood glucose naturally. Although fats are not directly converted into glucose, during rest your body will use fat over glucose, and the fats released from food make you insulin resistant for that reason. Recently, research done at the Joslin Diabetes Center showed that when people eat the same exact amount of carbs in two dinners but differing amounts of fat and calories, they have to take more insulin to cover the meal with more fat (1). I could have told them that just from personal experience!

In 2015, a systematic review (2) came up with similar findings: All studies examining the effect of fat, protein, and GI indicated that these dietary factors modify your blood glucose after meals. Late postprandial hyperglycemia was the predominant effect of dietary fat; however, in some studies, blood glucose was lower in the first 2-3 hours, possibly due to a slower emptying form the stomach. These studies also reported that high-fat/protein meals require more insulin than lower-fat/protein meals with identical carbohydrate content. Such findings point to the need for research focused on the development of new insulin dosing algorithms based on meal composition rather than on carbohydrate content alone.

 Another related problem arises from the types of insulin that people use as mealtime insulin. Back in the “dark ages” of diabetes care, I started out using what was called “Regular” insulin, which had a slow onset and lasted for many hours after the meal. Actually, I wish I still used R insulin as it would likely cover the mixed meals I eat better than the rapid-acting insulins on the market now (I’ve heard you can still buy R without a prescription, but haven’t tried getting any). The rapid-acting ones available now (Humalog, Novolog, Apidra, and inhaled Exubera) only really last for a couple of hours, and they’re really ineffective at covering the rise in blood glucose arising from fat and protein digestion and absorption long after the carbs are gone.

My personal strategy to deal with the way rapid-acting insulins work is to take higher levels of basal insulin during the day to help cover my protein and fat intake. I also check my blood glucose an hour or so after eating every meal and correct with extra insulin then based on my blood glucose level and my expected response to whatever remaining calories in the food I ate (mostly coming from low GI carbs, protein, and fat).

So, what should you do if you choose not to count carbs? Learn as much as you can about what you’re eating. Read food labels to find out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat are in your foods. Record everything you eat and drink (and do) for at least a month and see what your unique response is to foods you eat on a regular basis. (I did this for at least a decade after I finally had a blood glucose meter to learn my individual response to everything.) It may also help to actually measure out what you’re eating with measuring cups or a kitchen scale until you get a better idea of what portions you’re taking in as well. Most Americans these days have portion distortion and eat way more than they think. Most of all, just consider more than the carbs that you’re consuming when it comes to managing your postmeal spikes effectively.

References:

(1) Wolpert HA, Atakov-Castillo A, Smith SA, Steil GM: Dietary fat acutely increases glucose concentrations and insulin requirements in patients with type 1 diabetes: implications for carbohydrate-based bolus dose calculation and intensive diabetes management. Diabetes Care 2013;36:810-816

(2) Bell KJ, Smart CE, Steil GM, Brand-Miller JC, King B, Wolpert HA: Impact of fat, protein, and glycemic index on postprandial glucose control in type 1 diabetes: Implications for intensive diabetes management in the continuous glucose monitoring era. Diabetes care 2015;38:1008-1015

Head Scratching Days with Insulin Action Changes

SB sprint subject (and Sheri)

The topic of insulin action (resistance and sensitivity) has come up multiple times over the years in my articles and posts, but it is admittedly much more complex than I often make it out to be. In a DiabetesInControl article I posted last summer, you can find a short list of all the factors that can potentially improve insulin action (basically insulin sensitivity). In reality, though, sometimes it is impossible to know exactly what is affecting it.

Recently, I spent the majority of two days traveling in a car and not exercising, and I reached the point where I could barely eat anything without my blood glucose rising over 200 mg/dL, even when giving twice or three times my usual insulin dose for the same food. Just sitting in a car and not exercising resulted in full muscle glycogen stores, with no room to store more carbohydrate—hence the resulting muscular insulin resistance. Even I was frustrated by dealing with my lack of immediate control, even though I knew that physical inactivity was the cause.

Based on my personal experience, I want to take some of the burden of always being on top of blood glucose levels off of anyone with diabetes. Sometimes you can do everything right and your insulin action can still less (or more) than expected. It’s not necessarily your fault, nor can you always anticipate how to best combat it.

Here is my short list of factors from my personal experience that can make people insulin resistant one day and insulin sensitive the next—and not always as you would expect. I call those the “head scratching days,” but sometimes it’s more like hair pulling!

  • If you’ve had a prior hypoglycemic event

Going too low and staying there for a while (such as during sleep) may increase insulin resistance more than just having a simple hypo event and treating it quickly. Morning insulin resistance is the most variable anyway (higher levels of cortisol then). It is admittedly my most frustrating time of day since often the same exact breakfast and starting blood glucose level will result in a different rise in blood glucose levels. Sometimes an overnight low explains it, but sometimes it doesn’t.

  • If your blood glucose has been running high

Hyperglycemia begets more hyperglycemia because it causes insulin resistance. That is why sometimes it takes way more insulin than you would expect just to get back to a normal level, and it may take hours. Try not to overdose on insulin in the meantime (especially you’re your bedtime) or you’ll end up low and back on the blood glucose rollercoaster.

  • If you’ve drastically changed your normal exercise patterns

Heightened insulin action due to your last workout is fleeting, and sitting in a car for two days is a dramatic change for me, particularly since my basal and other insulin doses are set for being active, not for being inactive. Even a week of detraining (due to injury, vacation, sickness, or other life event) can cause insulin resistance to rise rapidly in everyone, not just in people with diabetes. If you start working out more overall or just more regularly, your overall insulin needs (including basal) may also decrease. Just try to be as consistent as possible to make it easier for yourself to manage.

  • If you ate more calories, fat, or protein than you realized

Eating out at restaurants is really hard for me because no matter what I order, it seems like it takes two to three times my usual insulin doses to cover it. It is likely because protein and fat kick in and affect blood glucose levels later on (3-6 hours after a meal) and restaurant meals have more calories in them than most home-cooked meals. Fat, sugar, and salt keep people coming back to the restaurant for more! You can strategically use protein and fat intake overnight or after exercise to help prevent later-onset lows, though.

  • If you’re stressed, mentally or physically

It is truly amazing how much of an impact that stress has on blood glucose levels. Just try going to court (if you’re not an attorney) and keep your blood glucose in check while your adrenaline is pumping. Your cortisol levels also go up and raise blood glucose. So, just being stressed out during the day, or being exhausted or sick (physical stress), can cause insulin resistance. Try to take deep breaths and get some exercise during the day to combat both the stress and the resulting insulin resistance. Getting sick and running a fever or having an infection can also drive your blood glucose and insulin needs up.

  • If you’re lacking on sleep

Not getting enough sleep is physically (and often mentally) stressful. I knew an oceanography professor who had to harvest samples at sea, sometimes for days at a time, on no sleep.  The longer he went without sleeping, the higher his insulin resistance became. Lack of sleep may be causing some of your unexplained highs since more cortisol (a stress hormone) is released when you are sleep-deprived.

  • If you’ve had some alcohol to drink

Alcohol interferes with the normal function of the liver in making and releasing glucose. While it can lead to hypos, it can also be used strategically to relieve insulin resistance or to keep it in check—and luckily it does not take much alcohol to have an effect. An older guy called me on a diabetes hotline I was manning for a TV station once and explained that he usually had two shots of whiskey at night and woke up with good blood glucose levels, but that if he ever had to skip the whiskey, he would wake up too high.  He wanted to know what he should do.  I said, “Keep drinking the whiskey!” No more than one drink daily for women or two for men is recommended, though, so do not overdo it or you raise your risk of other health problems.

  • If it’s a certain time of the month (women only)

You may have everything else accounted for and your blood glucose levels are still skyrocketing for apparently no reason—except that you’re either ovulating (and releasing extra hormones that promote insulin resistance) or in the few days or week leading up to your period when insulin resistance is highest.  This has been a bigger issue for me later in life since my cycles seem to be more extreme, although I do not know if this is the case for all women. I helped a diabetes educator recently figure out that she was pregnant when she simply could not figure out why her blood glucose levels were so whacked out; it can be as simple an explanation as that (and hopefully a desired one, if pregnant).

Regardless of what is causing your (unexplained) insulin resistance, just try to manage your blood glucose levels the best you can and lose the guilt over not knowing exactly why it is high and not being totally in control 24/7. Even the most knowledgeable of us have our head-scratching and/or hair-pulling days trying to figure it out!

How to Improve What Really Matters: Quality of Life, Not Longevity

Active senior swimmerFor many years, I have focused on aspects of lifestyle and health management that can enhance quality of life, especially when living with diabetes, rather than simply on living a long time (longevity). Much of my motivation is derived from watching my maternal grandmother suffer through six (long) years of severe disability related to cardiovascular complications of diabetes starting at the age of 70 that left her unable to feed herself or communicate, bed bound, and with almost no quality of life for her final six years. Really, what is the point of simply being alive in that case? This topic has come up again recently. New research published online ahead of print in Diabetologia in Spring 2016 (1) presented results showing that the life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy at age 50 years were 30.2 years and 12.7 good years, respectively, for men with diabetes, and 33.9 years and 13.1 good years for women with diabetes.

Really think about what those estimates mean: If you’re female and have diabetes at age 50, you would be expected to live almost to age 84, but likely be disabled in some way from the age of 71 forward. If the disability is severe (as in the case of my stroked-out grandmother), then that is a lot of pointless years of being alive without really living, not to mention being a huge burden to your family.

Admittedly, that’s pretty discouraging. The best solution may be to focus on what we can do to prevent disability with aging rather than simply living longer. Here are three proven ways to improve your quality of life with diabetes (and likely your longevity):

Exercise regularly and be more physically active overall. Even if you already have some diabetes health issues like peripheral neuropathy, which can negatively impact quality of life, exercising regularly can help. In older adults with diabetes and neuropathy, engaging in just 8 weeks of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise improved their quality of life and led to less pain, more feeling in their feet, less restriction in their activities of daily living, better social interactions, and a greater overall life quality—just after 8 weeks of training (2). Other types of physical activity have similar and profound effects on living well with neuropathy (3), so choose what you enjoy doing the most and start with those.

Eat more fiber, found abundantly naturally in plant-based foods. We all know we should be eating more fiber, but where can you find it (besides in Metamucil, which may not have the same health benefits)? Look for it in plant-based foods, mainly fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts and seeds. Dietary fiber and whole grains contain a unique blend of bioactive components including resistant starches, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, all of which are critical to healthy living. A higher fiber intake helps prevent or protect against health issues that can decrease both quality of life and longevity, including constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, gastric reflux, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases (4). It also keeps the healthful gut bacteria in your digestive tract more abundant, which directly can benefit health and even prevent obesity. Aim for as much as 50 grams of fiber in your daily diet for optimal health.

Improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Both sleeping better and sleeping enough (7 to 8 hours a night for most adults) lower insulin resistance and can help improve diabetes control; alternately, not getting enough good sleep can make your blood glucose levels much harder to manage. As you age, it may require taking a melatonin supplement to help you fall asleep and improve diabetes control (5), but exercising regularly certainly assists as well, so try taking your daily dose of exercise to optimize sleep. Get started on these three easy changes today to improve your chances for living longer without disabilities. Remember, there’s more to life than living a long time. What’s the point of living longer if you can’t live well and feel your best every day of your life? It really is your choice to make because you can affect the outcome.

References cited:

  1. Huo L, et al. “Burden of diabetes in Australia: life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy in adults with diabetes” Diabetologia 2016; DOI: 10.1007/s00125-016-3948-x. 2. Dixit S, Maiya A, Shastry B: Effect of aerobic exercise on quality of life in population with diabetic peripheral neuropathy in type 2 diabetes: a single blind, randomized controlled trial. Quality of Life Research 2014;23:1629-1640
  2. Streckmann F, Zopf EM, Lehmann HC, May K, Rizza J, Zimmer P, Gollhofer A, Bloch W, Baumann FT: Exercise intervention studies in patients with peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review. Sports Med 2014;44:1289-1304
  3. Otles S, Ozgoz S: Health effects of dietary fiber. Acta Scientiarum Polonorum Technologia Alimentaria 2014;13:191-202
  4. Grieco CR, Colberg SR, Somma CT, Thompson A, Vinik AI: Melatonin supplementation lowers oxidative stress and improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. International Journal of Diabetes Research, 2(3): 45-49, 2013 (doi: 10.5923/j.diabetes.20130203.02)

How to Be the Biggest Maintainer, Not Just the Biggest Loser

Biggest maintainer

A study in Obesity in May 2016 (1) reported very discouraging findings for a group of participants who had lost weight on “The Biggest Loser” (TBL) reality TV show: not only did almost all of them regain a significant amount of weight over the 6-year period afterwards, but they also had lower resting metabolic rates than expected for their body weights, even six years later. With media spin, it won’t be a surprise if everyone just gives up staying thinner and blames excess weight on a faulty, and unchangeable, metabolism.

However, there are a number of factors that impact body weight and weight regain after loss, not just resting metabolism. How much physical activity people do daily and what type, the types of food that people eat, how many calories they actually ingest daily and when they consume them, stress management, and sleep patterns also have an impact on weight maintenance and regain after loss, among other things.

My issues with this study and with TBL’s approach to weight loss are the following:

(1) The way the contestants go about losing large amounts of body weight in a relatively short time is not sustainable as a lifestyle to maintain body weight after loss;

(2) Although TBL participants exercise (a whole lot) during their initial, six-month weight loss period—which helps prevent even greater losses of lean body mass than they would experience otherwise with such extreme weight loss—it does not prevent all muscle mass loss, which means that their total amount of muscle decreased (regardless of their relative ratios of fat and non-fat tissues);

(3) Dietary changes are as important to weight management as they are to weight loss, and diet is de-emphasized on TBL, with a focus instead on reality-TV- and entertainment-driven crazy amounts and types of physical activity; and

(4) TBL approach is not the same as that reported by successful losers and maintainers followed in the National Weight Control Registry (http://www.nwcr.ws).

With regard to that last point, much can be learned from studying members of the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which only includes people with medically documented weight losses of at least 30 pounds that were maintained for at least a year. While the members lost and keep the weight off in a variety of ways, most report continuing to maintain a low-calorie, low-fat diet and doing high levels of physical activity. Among the NWCR members: 78% eat breakfast every day; 75% weigh themselves at least once a week; 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week; and 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.

In one study, NWCR subjects spent significantly more time per day in sustained bouts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than their overweight counterparts (41.5 ± 35.1 min/day vs. 19.2 ± 18.6 min/day) and marginally more than normal weight adults (25.8 ± 23.4), so they were actually getting more daily exercise than most (2). A 10-year study of self-reported weight loss and behavior change in 2,886 NWCR participants (78% female; mean age 48 years), and more than 87% were still maintaining at least a 10% weight loss after five and ten years (3). Even though decreases in leisure-time physical activity, dietary restraint, and frequency of self-weighing, along with increases in percentage of energy intake from fat and disinhibition, were associated with greater weight regain, the majority of weight lost by NWCR members has been maintained over 10 years.

Others have reported that the differences in total weight gain in people being overfed similar amounts of calories was likely due to the total amount of daily movement that they engaged in, including standing, fidgeting, and taking more steps, not just planned exercise (4). Weight maintenance may, therefore, as influenced by total daily activity that is not necessarily reported or measured like most moderate and vigorous exercise is.

Weight maintenance may also be as simple as staying on top of body weight. NWCR studies have shown that consistent self-weighing may help individuals maintain their successful weight loss by allowing them to catch weight gains before they escalate and make behavior changes to prevent additional weight gain, and decreased self-weighing frequency is independently associated with greater weight regain (5).

Clearly, the body is a complex system with many different bodily and environmental factors adding to the mix. In the TBL study, there was no indication that they controlled for the potential effects of the last bout of exercise on resting metabolic measures (at least this was not reported on in the study), although exercise can impact metabolism for 2-72 hours afterwards They did not measure or report on the types of foods that the “biggest losers” were eating, although fiber is known to improve the gut microbiota and may be related to successful weight loss and maintenance (7). While many reported being active, doing cardio training versus resistance can have differing impacts on muscle glycogen storage, muscle mass, and insulin action, as well as resting metabolism, and the type of activity done was not reported in TBL study.

So, before we jump to any conclusions and blame all weight regain on something completely outside our control (a lower resting metabolism) and relinquish all personal responsibility for weight maintenance, make sure to consider all of the other potentially confounding variables that have not necessarily been well studied at this point. Let’s not just rely on and sensationalize the results of one small pilot study of “biggest losers,’ but rather take away lessons learned from the successful maintainers who are members of the much more reality-based NWCR.

Reference cited:

  1. Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD: Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “the biggest loser” competition. Obesity 2016:n/a-n/a

Being Active and Getting Injured: How to Prevent This Conundrum

Back injury

You finally decide to get active to help manage your type 1 or type 2 diabetes better or to prevent type 2 altogether, and once you’ve hit your stride, you get an injury that puts you back on the couch! Getting injured from being active happens often enough that you need to know how to prevent and treat injuries so you can stay on track. The best medicine is prevention, so trying to prevent injuries before they happen is the best way to avoid having to take time off from exercising and sidetracking your fitness program. Here are some things you need to know:

The incidence of activity-related injuries, such as inflamed tendons (tendinitis) and stress fractures in bones, rises dramatically when people do more than 60 to 90 minutes of moderate or hard exercise daily. These types of overuse injury are nagging and persistently uncomfortable. Overuse injuries occur following excessive use the same joints and muscle in a similar way over an extended period of weeks or months. If you develop an overuse injury, it’s likely to be the result of excessive training, or doing too much too soon. In my own experience (since I’ve been regularly active for decades), they can also arise from doing something unusual, such as putting down a paver driveway, beating the yard into submission, or cleaning excessively prior to putting the house on the market.

Overuse injuries are more common in anyone with diabetes because elevated blood glucose can affect the health of your joints. Although everyone gets stiffer with age, diabetes accelerates the usual loss of flexibility especially when blood glucose is higher. Glucose “sticking” to joint surfaces makes people with diabetes more prone to overuse injuries like tendinitis and frozen shoulder (1; 2). It may also take longer for joint injuries to heal properly. The bones themselves can be thinned by exposure to elevated blood glucose levels, making fractures more common in people with any type of diabetes (3). The best prevention of any of these issues is optimal blood glucose control and regular stretching to maintain motion around joints.

You’ll likely benefit from doing a variety of activities on a weekly basis, an approach known as cross-training. Changing up your workouts is really they key to avoiding overuse injuries, keeping exercise fresh and fun, and getting more fit. Each activity a person does stresses muscles and joints differently, which lowers the risk of injury. It adds variety to an exercise program when you include activities like walking, cycling, rowing, swimming, arm biking, weight training, aerobic classes, and yoga, and it gives you the flexibility to choose different options based on your time constraints, the weather, and other factors. It also allows you to rest some muscles and joints without stopping exercising entirely. Alternating hard and easy days to lower the constant stress on muscles and joints is also a great idea.

To prevent overuse injuries, progress your exercise slowly (particularly the intensity), choose safe activities for you personally, always warm up and cool down, and make sure that you stretch your muscles regularly to stay more limber. For ongoing problems, treat affected areas with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), combined with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil or Nuprin) or naproxen sodium (found in Aleve), and avoid going back to normal activities or aggravating joints further until your symptoms resolve.

Finally, taking at least one day a week off from planned activities to rest allows your body time to recuperate and may prevent overuse injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop moving, though, so keep your bodies in motion even on your days off for optimal blood glucose control.

References cited:

1. Abate M, Schiavone C, Pelotti P, Salini V: Limited joint mobility in diabetes and ageing: recent advances in pathogenesis and therapy. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol 2011;23:997-1003

2. Ranger TA, Wong AM, Cook JL, Gaida JE: Is there an association between tendinopathy and diabetes mellitus? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2015;

3. McCabe L, Zhang J, Raehtz S: Understanding the skeletal pathology of type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus. Crit Rev Eukaryot Gene Expr 2011;21:187-206

What You Don’t Know about Statins Can Hurt You

Muscle massage

I recently received an email from a person with type 1 diabetes living in Denmark (Guido) whose physician believes in prescribing many medications to manage cholesterol and high blood pressure in anyone with diabetes, regardless of need. Guido has been taking a statin (Atorvastatin, brand name Lipitor), along with at least four others for blood pressure control. He used to take Simvastitin (Zocor), but a year prior had been changed to Atorvastatin (and his dose doubled). That’s when his problems with exercise began.

Statins are taken to treat high cholesterol levels or abnormal levels of blood fats, in an attempt to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Brand name examples include Altoprev, Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Livalo, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor.

The cholesterol guidelines were recently updated, so now even more adults with diabetes and prediabetes are being prescribed these medications. In individuals who are unwilling or unable to change their diet and lifestyles sufficiently or have genetically high levels of blood lipids, the benefits of statins for lowering cardiovascular risk likely greatly exceed the risks, or so the experts claim (1). If a person has a low risk for developing cardiovascular problems and does not already have type 2 diabetes, taking them is not advised (2), particularly because many statins increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (3).

Since one month after he started taking Atorvastatin, Guido confided that has been suffering from extreme stiffness and pain in his legs that occurs after running any distance (3 km or 20 km). The pain is in his lower leg/ankle (the right one hurts more, but the left leg is also very stiff) and occurs typically after his runs and decreases after 3 to 4 days, during which time he is unable to run at all. His legs have been scanned and are negative for any signs of fractures or inflammation, and they have ruled out compartment syndrome.

In his email, Guido stated: “I suspect it is the Atorvastitin. What do you think?”

My answer was, “I completely agree that your problems are probably coming from the Atorvastatin. As a group of medications, the statins are WELL known for causing muscle and joint issues.  I would suggest considering going off of it completely and see if your symptoms resolve in a few weeks.”

Guess what?  It worked!  He emailed me a week later, stating “I have stopped using the Statins now for 5 days and after a 12 km run my legs feel completely different and back to normal.” That was great news to hear!

Undesirable muscular effects from statin use are commonplace, such as unexplained muscle pain and weakness with physical activity that Guido has been having, which may be related to statins compromising the ability of the muscles to generate energy. The occurrence of muscular conditions like myalgia and rhabdomyolysis, although rare, is doubled with diabetes (4). Others have reported an increased susceptibility to exercise-induced muscle injury when taking statins, particularly active, older individuals (5). Other symptoms, such as muscle cramps during or after exercise, nocturnal cramping, and general fatigue, generally resolve when people stop taking them. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to talk with your health care provider about switching to another cholesterol-lowering drug that may not cause them.

Long-term use of statins also negatively impacts the organization of collagen and decreases the biomechanical strength of the tendons, making them more predisposed to ruptures. Statin users experience more spontaneous ruptures of both their biceps and Achilles tendons (6-8); I personally know a physically active person with type 1 diabetes that simultaneously ruptured both of his Achilles tendons during a routine workout due to long-term statin use. Again, talk with your doctor about whether it may be possible to manage your heart disease risk and lipid levels without taking statins long-term for all these reasons.

There’s nothing worse than a medication that is supposed to help lower your cardiovascular risk, but ends up removing all of the potential benefits by taking away your ability to be active! Likely the greatest risk factor for heart disease is physical inactivity, so don’t take statins if they make you sit on the couch. At least try another medication to see if it has a lesser negative impact on being active.

References cited:

  1. Kones R: Rosuvastatin, inflammation, C-reactive protein, JUPITER, and primary prevention of cardiovascular disease–a perspective. Drug Des Devel Ther 2010;4:383-413
  2. Taylor F, Ward K, Moore TH, Burke M, Davey Smith G, Casas JP, Ebrahim S: Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011:CD004816
  3. Mayor S: Statins associated with 46% rise in type 2 diabetes risk, study shows. BMJ 2015;350:h1222
  4. Nichols GA, Koro CE: Does statin therapy initiation increase the risk for myopathy? An observational study of 32,225 diabetic and nondiabetic patients. Clin Ther 2007;29:1761-1770
  5. Parker BA, Augeri AL, Capizzi JA, Ballard KD, Troyanos C, Baggish AL, D’Hemecourt PA, Thompson PD: Effect of statins on creatine kinase levels before and after a marathon run. Am J Cardiol 2012;109:282-287
  6. de Oliveira LP, Vieira CP, Da Re Guerra F, de Almeida Mdos S, Pimentel ER: Statins induce biochemical changes in the Achilles tendon after chronic treatment. Toxicology 2013;311:162-168
  7. de Oliveira LP, Vieira CP, Guerra FD, Almeida MS, Pimentel ER: Structural and biomechanical changes in the Achilles tendon after chronic treatment with statins. Food and chemical toxicology: an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association 2015;77:50-57
  8. Savvidou C, Moreno R: Spontaneous distal biceps tendon ruptures: are they related to statin administration? Hand surgery: an international journal devoted to hand and upper limb surgery and related research: journal of the Asia-Pacific Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand 2012;17:167-171

Stay Motivated to Be Active

Jen Hanson Bouldering

Ever go to a fitness facility in January and then back in April?  The difference in the number of people working out is tremendously fewer, even just a few months after most of them were all gung-ho about getting into shape in the new year. Why does this happen?

The most common reasons why people start and stop an exercise program are well documented: 1) a perceived lack of time, 2) exercise-related injuries, and 3) exercise is not fun (which often is due to starting at an exercise intensity that is too high for their fitness level).  Lack of time (perceived or real) is likely the biggest stumbling block for people trying to adopt a new exercise regimen. You can overcome this barrier by deciding to stop thinking of exercise as a planned activity and instead try to move more throughout the day. You’ll be amazed at how much more active you will become and how little time you have to sacrifice to do it. Any movement you do increases the amount of energy that you expend in a day.

In fact, for most people, the majority of their calorie use during the day comes from unstructured activities rather than from a formal exercise plan. Just standing up for two hours a day more can expend upwards of 350 calories daily and may be the difference between remaining lean and gaining excess body weight.

To avoid becoming demotivated to exercise, try these strategies:

  • Fit exercise in whenever you can, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time
  • Schedule exercise time into your daily lives (and keep to that schedule)
  • Avoid getting injured by starting out at an appropriate exercise level (not too long or hard) and progressing slowly
  • Include stretching to help prevent injuries and balance exercises to prevent falls
  • Pick activities that you actually enjoy doing (like dancing) and do those to stay more engaged and motivated to be active
  • Keep your body in motion all day long in any way possible