Cholesterol medication causing pain in muscles

Q: At the recommendation of my doctor, I began taking red yeast rice (RYR) to lower my cholesterol. I had already tried niacin without success.

Within a month, my arms started to hurt. Soon the pain was so bad that I stopped taking RYR.

Ten weeks later, my upper-arm muscles are still excruciatingly painful. I cannot change gears in my car or even lift a cup of coffee.

Is there any way to undo this muscle damage? I've always been very fit and active, and would not wish this on my worst enemy. I feel like a pelican with a broken wing.

A: Red yeast rice is a natural product that contains compounds similar to prescription statins. Many people assume that it is harmless because it is natural and available over the counter. There is limited Food and Drug Administration supervision of such dietary supplements, and therefore purity and dose can't be guaranteed.

Some people seem especially susceptible to muscle damage from statin-type medications to lower cholesterol. Drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) all can cause muscle pain or even a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis.

Red yeast rice also can cause muscle problems. It is hard to say how long it may take for your muscles to recover. Adding Coenzyme Q10 to your regimen might help, but there are no studies to demonstrate accelerated healing from statin injury.

Q: During my military career, I discovered a way to avoid getting athlete's foot. I tried most of the products on the market, but it always came back.

I thought about how to get my feet very dry after showering and started using a hair dryer (about 30 seconds on the toes of each foot). I've been doing this for about 40 years and have not had a problem with athlete's foot since.

A: Athlete's foot is caused by a fungal infection. These organisms love moist, warm skin, so using the hair dryer to remove moisture between the toes makes sense. Readers tell us that soaking feet in a solution of white vinegar (one part vinegar to two parts water) can be helpful because it makes the skin inhospitable to fungus. Adding some old-fashioned amber Listerine to the mixture also may assist in clearing up an infection.

Q: I've had arthritis for years. I followed advice in your column and am totally amazed to find that eating cherries daily made my shoulder pain stop. I drink cherry juice when cherries are out of season.

After adding apple-cider vinegar to my regimen, my hands no longer hurt. When I didn't consume these things during a trip, the pain returned. It's been months now, and the remedies are still working.

A: We're glad you found options that help.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via

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