What are the risks and side effects of statin drugs?

With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States, pharmaceutical companies have flooded the market with a variety of medications intended to lower high cholesterol levels. The most popular class of cholesterol busting drugs is “statins”.

High cholesterol is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16.3 percent or approximately one in every six adults in the U.S. has high cholesterol levels. The CDC also reports that more women than men have high levels.

What is Cholesterol?

There has been much discussion about the two types of cholesterol – the good and the bad. The good is known as HDL and the bad as LDL. The good actually helps remove fat from the blood. The bad can eventually kill you.

Circulating through the blood stream, LDL forms plaque, which clings to arterial walls narrowing or blocking blood vessels and depriving tissue and organs of oxygen. This is what is known as “hardening of the arteries,” a condition that often leads to heart disease and strokes.

What are statins?

Statins are a group of drugs that lowers the amount of cholesterol in the blood by blocking an enzyme needed to make cholesterol. Its efficacy, however, is still in question.  An article by the Mayo Clinic says, “Statins may [editor’s italics] help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up in plaques on your artery walls…”

The Mayo Clinic, other health professionals, and even the large drug manufacturers agree that there are definite risks involved in taking statins.

Possible side effects include:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Tendon problems
  • Alternations in some laboratory tests
  • Yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes
  • Brown urine
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Poor memory
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney failure

…and the list goes on.

Do statins deplete important CoQ10 levels?

One very important side effect of statins not listed by the drug companies is the depletion of CoQ10 levels in people taking these drugs. It exists in every cell of the body and is responsible for 95 percent of the energy production in certain cells.

CoQ10 is an extremely important nutrient that supports vital muscle function.  With insufficient levels of CoQ10, the body’s ability to repair and regenerate skeletal muscle is greatly compromised. This can eventually lead to incapacitation.

CoQ10, according to the Mayo Clinic, “is produced by the human body and is necessary for the basic functioning of cells. CoQ10 levels are reported…to be low in patients with some chronic diseases such as heart conditions, [and] muscular dystrophies…Some prescription drugs may also lower CoQ10 levels.”

Studies have shown that two-thirds of patients without heart problems who were put on a low dose of a statin medication developed problems with the heart filling up with blood normally. According to the cardiologist who conducted this study, Peter Langsjoen, this abnormality was caused by CoQ10 depletion.

He reasoned that without CoQ10, “…the cell’s mitochondria are inhibited from producing energy, leading to muscle pain and weakness. The heart is especially susceptible because it uses so much energy.”

The results of nine other controlled studies to show whether statins were responsible for CoQ10 production concluded that 90 percent of the participants suffered significant depletion of CoQ10.

Numbers Needed to Treat (NNT)

The number of people who have to take a particular drug or treatment in order for one person to benefit measures the efficacy of a drug or treatment. This is called the numbers needed to treat (NNT).

A study updated in 2010 by Dr. David Newman, reports the NNT over a five year period for patients with known heart disease being treated with statins were:

  • 1 in 83 were helped (life saved)
  • 1 in 39 were helped (preventing non-fatal heart attack)
  • 1 in 125 were helped (preventing stroke)

These numbers indicate that statins are not very effective.

Dr. Langsjoen believes that taking CoQ10 should be mandatory for anyone taking statins so that the risks and side effects can be counteracted. It is already a requirement in Canada.

Health authorities there require that statins sold must carry a precautionary warning regarding CoQ10 depletion. Doctors are also required to talk to their patients about taking CoQ10 when they prescribe statins.

If you are taking a statin medication, you would be well advised to research their side effects and discuss the benefits of CoQ10 supplements with your doctor.

Sources:
Charis Grey, “The Effects of LDL Cholesterol”
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you?Merck.com, product information for patients
The Weston A. Price Foundation, “Dangers of Statin Drugs: What You Haven’t Been Told About Popular Cholesterol-Lowing Medicines.”

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