If you’re at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, suffer from angina or have had a heart attack or stroke, you may be taking prescribed drugs called statins. Statins reduce the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening, heart and circulation problems by lowering the levels of cholesterol in your blood by up to 50%.
There are two kinds of cholesterol, which is produced by the liver and also obtained from cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs, milk and cheese. ‘Good’ HDL cholesterol is vital for healthy cells, while ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol is linked to cardiovascular disease.
“Having raised cholesterol is closely linked to your risk of heart attack and stroke, which together account for 245,000 deaths every year in the UK,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan’s Medical Director. “Maintaining a low cholesterol level is undoubtedly beneficial for health.”
Cholesterol levels can be checked by testing your blood. If your cholesterol level’s over 5 mm/l, you may be able to lower it by eating a healthy, balanced diet, taking more exercise and losing any extra pounds. If you have high blood pressure, are overweight, have diabetes, smoke or have a strong family history of cardiovascular disease, your GP may prescribe statins to lower your cholesterol and maintain a healthy level.
Statin Side Effects
“Up to 5% percent of people taking statins develop muscle problems, such as muscle pain, inflammation and weakness,” explains Dr Sarah Brewer. “Very rarely, taking statins can trigger a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which breaks down muscle fibres and can damage the heart and kidneys. If you’re taking statins, tell your GP immediately if you develop muscle problems.”
Other common side effects include:
- Indigestion and flatulence
- Sore throat
- Runny nose (non-allergic rhinitis).
Taking statins can also raise blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetes. If you notice any possible diabetes symptoms (including increased thirst and/or hunger, dry mouth, needing to go to the loo more often, unexplained tiredness or blurred vision), contact your GP as soon as possible.
If you’re taking statins and are concerned about any side effects you’re experiencing, have a chat with your GP, who may change your daily dose or prescribe a different type of statin.
The CoQ10 Conundrum
Statins can reduce cholesterol levels by up to 50% – but they also dramatically reduce your body’s production of CoQ10, a natural substance which helps convert food into energy and is important for healthy muscles, including the heart.
“Low CoQ10 levels are believed to cause the muscle problems associated with taking statins,” says Dr Brewer. “In just two weeks, taking statins can halve your body’s levels of CoQ10.
“Thankfully, this can be reversed by taking a CoQ10 supplement. CoQ10 supplements have been shown to maintain levels of CoQ10 without affecting the cholesterol lowering effect of statins,” continues Dr Brewer, who adds that CoQ10 supplements appear to be especially important if you’re taking statins and have a family history of high cholesterol, have heart failure or are over 65.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Ameet Bakhai from the Spire Bushey Hospital stresses that regular check-ups and screening and, if necessary, taking statins, make a real difference to reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
“There are things that people can do to counteract the muscular aches and fatigue some of my patients who are on statins experience,” says Dr Bakhai. “For example, I recommend Ubiquinol a body-ready form of CoQ10, a summary of careful review of the research showed that this form of supplementation may be a complementary approach to manage statin‐induced muscle aches.”
A daily dose of Ubiquinol Max provides the equivalent of 280mg of easily absorbed CoQ10, as well as vitamin E, vitamins B1 and C for heart and energy support, and omega 3 fish oil. £35.95 (60 capsules), available from www.healthspan.co.uk
Vital Vitamin E
Statins also reduce your body’s levels of vitamin E, an antioxidant which helps combat the cell damage caused by ageing and the stresses of everyday life. You can help your levels of vitamin E recover by taking a dietary supplement containing this antioxidant.
Not Just For Winter
Statins also reduce levels of vitamin D, which is made from a cholesterol-like precursor in this skin, and low levels of vitamin D may also contribute to muscle-related statin side effects. If you are on a statin, a vitamin D supplement is also important. Always buy your vitamins from a reputable supplement company whose products are made to Good Manufacturing Practice which means that they are made to high pharmaceutical standards and what they say is in the supplement is actually contained within it. Vitamin D3 is now available in either sprays or as supplements.