A friend of mine takes a statin medication each day to lower his cholesterol. More than once I’ve heard him say “I ate too much! I’m going to have to take an extra pill.”
Never mind that it doesn’t work that way — a single additional statin pill won’t make much difference to his cholesterol or his health. And never mind that you shouldn’t self-adjust the dose of your medications (talk to your doctor before making any changes in medication dosing).
But my friend’s overindulging does bring up the question of whether starting medications for conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol might lead people to pay less attention to healthy lifestyle choices. Would my friend have been as likely to overeat before he was started on a statin?
What actually happens to lifestyle changes after medications are prescribed?
The thinking might go like this. If your cholesterol or blood pressure is not ideal, your doctor will likely recommend changes in your diet, regular exercise, and loss of excess weight, as these measures will lower cholesterol and blood pressure in many people. But if that doesn’t work well enough, a medication may be prescribed. Once the medicine is doing its job, it may seem like it’s not so important to continue with the diet and exercise routine.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that this way of thinking might be widespread: people with hypertension (high blood pressure) or high cholesterol seem to let their healthy habits slide once they start taking medications.
Researchers collected data on weight, smoking, physical activity, and alcohol use among more than 40,000 adults with no history of cardiovascular disease. Compared with people who were not prescribed medications for high cholesterol or high blood pressure, those who were prescribed medications
- tended to gain more weight. In fact, they were 82% more likely to become obese.
- exercised less. They were 8% more likely to be physically inactive.
The news wasn’t all bad. Those starting medications tended to drink less alcohol and to quit smoking more often than those not taking medicines.
It’s not okay to slack off on lifestyle changes like diet and exercise if you’re taking a statin or blood pressure pill
These results can be interpreted in a number of ways. Perhaps people who start ta