Statins are a class of drug that are used to lower cholesterol levels. Lipitor, Mevacor, Crestor, Zocor, and Vytorin are some of the more well known brand names that belong to this class of drug. These drugs are extremely profitable generating billions of dollars in sales. According to CNN Money, Lipitor is the top-selling drug of all time with nearly $13 billion in 2006 sales.
Despite a large analysis presented in a study in the April 2005 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine showing that omega-3 fatty acids decreased the risk ratio for death by 23% and that statins only decreased the risk of death by 13%, statins are still used as the primary way to treat people with high cholesterol. Lipitor alone has been prescribed to over 18 million Americans to help them treat their cholesterol levels.
Muscle symptoms commonly occur with statin drugs. In some cases myopathy, or damage to the muscle tissue, can actually occur. Very rarely, if myopathy occurs and statin therapy is not stopped a very dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis can occur which can sometimes be fatal.
According to an article in USA Today, Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, “linked 72 fatal and 772 non-fatal cases of muscle breakdown, known as rhabdomyolysis, to all six of the statins sold between October 1997 and December 2000. The study found 29 earlier deaths.”
Statins decrease cholesterol production by inhibiting an enzyme in the body called HMG-CoA, which is short of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl. The same biosynthesis pathway that is blocked in order to reduce cholesterol also reduces the production of a key nutrient in the body called coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 for short. Studies have shown that blood levels of CoQ10 drop by 25% to 50% after statin treatment.
CoQ10 is a key component in energy production that takes place in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of the cell and are key to life. CoQ10 deficiency resulting from statin treatment may impair muscle energy production and contribute to the muscle symptoms and more serious conditions in patients using statins.
A study in the May issue of The American Journal of Cardiology examined the use of CoQ10 supplements to improve muscle symptoms in patients being treated with statins. The controlled, double-blind study provided half of 32 patients 100 milligrams (mgs) of CoQ10 a day for a month and the other half 400 IU of vitamin E.
At the end of the month the patients who were reporting statin related muscle pain that received the CoQ10 showed “decreased muscle pain by 40% and improved the interference of pain with daily life activities by 38%”. In contrast, the vitamin E group showed no improvement in muscle pain.
The authors note that, “these findings suggest the coenzyme Q10 may be beneficial for patients using statins by ameliorating myopathic [related to muscle disease] symptoms and improving subjects’ well-being and functioning in daily life activities.” This positive study showed the benefits of CoQ10 in offsetting some of the negative effects in people that are receiving statins. The fact remains however that statins interfering with CoQ10 synthesis resulting in negative consequences for patients have been known for quite some time.
In a previous article I asked Dr. Barry S. Kendler Professor of Nutrition at the University of Bridgeport Human Nutrition Institute about CoQ10 and statins and he said, “the pharmaceutical industry has not been helpful in this context, although they had full knowledge of the effects of statins on CoQ10 and the possible consequences of this, even before statins were marketed. In fact, one of the companies has a patent on including CoQ10 with the statin, but chose not to market the combination, possibly for financial reasons.”
In addition, an October 2004 newsletter by Dr. Sinatra, a medical doctor, board certified in internal medicine and cardiology, and a fellow of the American College of Cardiology indicated that Merck Pharmaceuticals has had a patent combining their popular statin drug Lovastatin [brand name Mevacor] and CoQ10 for years.
“Merck Pharmaceuticals has been sitting on a patent for combining Lovastatin and CoQ10 in the same capsule for 15 years, and I can't understand why they don't launch this product. I hope that as more studies show that higher dose statins, used over extended periods, are associated with greater side effects that include carcinogenicity [ability of a substance to cause cancer] and cardiomyopathy [weakening of the heart muscle], Merck will feel political pressure to act on these patents and create a product combining CoQ10 and Lovastatin at last.”
Source: The American Journal of Cardiology, May 15, 2007, Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1409-1412