Dr Sarah Brewer August 08, 2019

Most people with high cholesterol are prescribed statins, to lower their level of lipo-density lipoprotein cholesterol and reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. But the side effects of statins can be a pain. Dr Sarah Brewer tells us why coQ10 is a necessity when taking these lifesaving drugs.

The very latest evidence published in the Lancet reviewed 28 clinical trials, involving 186,854 patients, and confirms statin therapy reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke by about a fifth. Statistically, they work better than any other cholesterol treatment and the benefits outweigh potential risks overall.

How do statins work?

Statins work by blocking a substance produced in the liver called HMG-COA reductase, which cuts off cholesterol production. Recent research also suggests statins may have anti-inflammatory properties - important in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Who needs them?

Developed in the 1970s, millions have benefitted from statins. In fact, after new eligibility guidelines were laid out by health watchdog NICE, a 2017 study concluded almost all men over 60 and women over 75 should take them. Earlier this year, Oxford researchers suggested 8,000 deaths could be prevented annually if the four million over-75s who are currently not taking statins were offered the chance to take them.

Statin side effects

As with all medications, statins have potential side effects, and these have been widely documented to include muscle aches and pain, back pain, memory problems, dizziness, sleep disturbance and fatigue. Muscle pain is reported to affect one in ten people taking statins, and some have complained of crippling pain, twitching and weakness that only abated when they stopped taking the drug. Some people have found, however, that taking the antioxidant supplement Co-enzyme Q10 helped relieve their statin-related muscle pain.

Why should you take coQ10 if you're taking statins?

Studies have linked statin-related muscle pain to depleted levels of coQ10, and taking it in supplement form has been shown to alleviate muscle problems for some people. Research also links low levels of coQ10 with low levels of heart-protective LDL ('good') cholesterol.

Healthspan’s Medical Director Dr Sarah Brewer says, 'As well as switching off cholesterol production in the liver, statins also switch off production of a vitamin-like substance called ubiquinol, which is the active form of coenzyme Q10. Taking a statin can halve your circulating blood levels of ubiquinol within 4 weeks.'

Ubiquinol is needed for energy production in cells, especially muscle cells, and low levels may contribute to the muscle weakness and aches experienced by some people. Taking coQ10 supplements replenishes the normal levels that are reduced by statin treatment.

Importantly, taking a coQ10 supplement does not affect the cholesterol-lowering action of your statin drug. Some studies show that coQ10 supplements can decrease statin-related muscle side effects in 75% of people. Other studies have not shown benefit, but it may well help if you are experiencing muscle aches and pains.1

Cholesterol: HDL vs LDL

HDL - Generally referred to as ‘good cholesterol’ as it helps mop up excess cholesterol from your arteries (carrying it to the liver where it can be excreted). Study after study has shown those with higher HDL levels have lower rates of heart disease.

LDL - Often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, high levels of LDL can build up in the arteries. All attempts to improve heart health concentrate on reducing it.

More tips for lowering LDL cholesterol naturally...

  • Porridge and Mediterranean food Studies show eating an average sized bowl of porridge daily can reduce levels of LDL cholesterol by around seven per cent - making the benefits similar to taking statins.2 A typical Mediterranean diet, containing heart-healthy ingredients like extra virgin olive oil and vegetables and pulses, has also been shown to increase 'good' HDL cholesterol.3
  • Supplements There are also natural alternatives to statins including plant sterols (which lower cholesterol absorption in the intestines) and globe artichoke (which reduces cholesterol through effects in the liver). These supplements can also be taken with a statin for a synergistic effect that could help to avoid the need for increasing statin doses (which increases the risk of side effects). Explore all options with your doctor so you make the right choice for you.
  • Exercise Any activity helps to boost HDL levels but the more intense the exercise, the greater the benefits on HDL cholesterol. Regular exercise also helps to keep a check on weight which in turn helps to increase levels of 'healthier' HDL.

For more information on how to keep your heart healthy, see our heart health hub.

1Skarlovnik A et al. (2014). Coenzyme Q10 supplementation decreases statin-related mild-to-moderate muscle symptoms: a randomized clinical study, Med Sci Monit
2NHS (no date). Statins, NHS Conditions
3Estruch R et al. (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet, New England Journal of Medicine

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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