CoQ10 and Statins. Why do muscles feel weak when taking statins? Cholesterol 9.

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it hurts..my muscles, my skin… like the side effects I got from Lipitor.

So why do people on Statins suffer from aching muscles?  Cholesterol 8 looked at the bad effects on the brain caused by statins lowering cholesterol levels. This blog looks at the bad effects of taking statins upon energy levels and upon our heart.  First a little bit of science about how the body makes CoQ10 and cholesterol then we find out what CoQ10 is and why we feel lousy when taking statins.

The reasons for the bad effects are the same: statins interfere with cholesterol manufacture at the first part of the chain reaction.  It is at this same step that CoQ10 is manufactured – so the body can no longer manufacture sufficient CoQ10 for its needs.1 In the diagram to the right, Acetyl-CoA can be seen at the top.  Acetyl-CoA is the metabolic agent that starts up one of the energy systems in the body as well as being the starting agent for the manufacture of cholesterol in the body, so interfering with cholesterol production at that point also interferes with CoQ10 production.  So what is CoQ10 and why do low levels result in aching muscles?

Well another word for CoQ10 is ubiquinone, which sounds rather like ubiquitous for very good reason.  CoQ10 is found in all cells in the body – and there are billions of those – so it is ubiquitous to the body. In the cells, CoQ10 plays a key role in the production of ATP- and ATP for the body is like petrol for a car.  Without it, it doesn’t go.  So low CoQ10 levels will lead to sluggish muscle firing and this will make us feel weak.  It will most certainly be easier not to exercise because even the simplest exercise will be a huge effort.  But there is more to low CoQ10 levels than making a short jog feel like a marathon and the reason lies in the 4 other places where CoQ10 levels are at their most concentrated.

As well as the muscles, CoQ10 is found in greatest concentrations the heart, the brain, the kidneys and the liver.  So not only do our muscles feel weak when deprived of CoQ10, our heart has a harder time beating, our brain has a harder time thinking and the kidneys and liver a harder time cleaning us up.2  A study published in The American college of cardiology by a group of doctors from the UK and Germany showed a strong link between low cholesterol levels and increased death risk from heart failure.  One of the authors, Dr Andrew Clark of the University of Hull said

In heart failure, the fatter you are and the higher your cholesterol, the better off you will be.  This raises the possibility that statins may be dangerous in these patients, but I couldn’t state that categorically.  We need controlled trials to make such definite statements…….. My recommendation at the moment is not to use statins in heart failure patients.  I have no evidence to believe that they are good and quite a lot of suspicious evidence that they are bad.

Click on the link to Heart.Org online magazine to read the article.

Now there is no evidence that lowering CoQ10 levels causes heart failure, which partly explains why Dr Clark is talking about cholesterol levels and not CoQ10.  To reiterate, because of the shared pathway, lowering cholesterol levels with statins will also lower CoQ10 levels; it is impossible to only lower cholesterol.   Doctors generally dismiss complaints about muscle weakness, telling patients they are getting older now, so what can they expect?  However in the 1990s Merck, one of the statin companies (manufacturer of lovastatin and simvastatin) seriously considered adding CoQ10 to their statins as a result of their research.  They even took out a patent on the combination drug of statin and CoQ10.  Bioavailable3 CoQ10 is expensive which would drive the price of their statin up and make it uncompetitive with other manufacturers’ versions.  So Merck did not add CoQ10 to their statins – and have not recommended taking CoQ10 supplements either.  We can only speculate why.

The only group of people who have been consistently shown to benefit from taking statins are those who have had a heart attack.  If we have to be put on statins because of this, then life will be more bearable if we take CoQ10 as well.  It is not a cheap supplement – spending £5 in Tescos on a packet of CoQ10 will do nothing.  To stand a chance of being taken up by the body, CoQ10 needs to come in gel form and not tablet. For CoQ10 to be uptaken by the body, it has to be supplied in the form the body recognises, and this makes it expensive.  If it is cheap, it will merely pass right on through.  Click on the link to a previous blog about CoQ10 to find out more about CoQ10 and supplementation.

What to do?  If we have not had a heart attack and have been told we have high cholesterol levels, then the 1st thing to do is to get them to find out the levels of the really bad cholesterol; Lp(a): this is the cholesterol that causes blood to clot too much.4  It is also worth reading some books about cholesterol, eg The Great Cholesterol Con by the Scottish GP, Dr Malcom Kendrick.   If it is still decided to take statins because the doctor says so, then in order to keep some quality of life, maintain at least some of our marbles, and reduce the risk of dying of heart failure or cancer (next blog) then we really ought to supplement with high quality CoQ10.  Our muscles, hearts, brains, liver and kidneys will thank us for that. But they will thank us even more if we wise up on the subject and don’t get sucked in to the cholesterol con.

  1. CoQ10 is made in the body.  It is not a vitamin that can be taken in from the diet []
  2. The liver does a lot more than clean us up – it takes the components of our food and turns them into other substances needed around the body – cholesterol being a prime example.  The liver is the most amazing organ – not only the cleaning plant of the body, but also its chemical lab. []
  3. Bioavailable means something that is available to the body. Supplements have to come in a form the body recognises so it breaks it down properly and can use the ingredients. []
  4. There is a version of HDL – the supposed good cholesterol – that is also bad news, but as yet I can’t give that subfraction a name. []

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