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January 3, 2013

Have Low Energy? It Might Be Your Statin Drug

Have Low Energy? It Might Be Your Statin DrugHave low energy since taking a statin drug? Have you been told that you need to take a statin drug to improve your cholesterol (lipid) profile?

Statins are very effective at lowering cholesterol but they are also associated with side effects like every drug. But, when a group of drugs like statins are prescribed as frequently as statins are some of those side effects take their toll and become more evident with time. Low energy is one of them.

Statins: Suffering From Low Energy?

One frequent group of complaints from patients taking statin drugs is that they feel lethargic, have no energy, and basically have the blahs. For some those effects have been quite disabling.

Now there is evidence from this study that patients taking statins are more likely to suffer from low energy and lethargy. The study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine was a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study, the gold standard in medical research.

Participants in the study included 1,016 men and women without cardiovascular disease and diabetes who either took 20 mg of simvastatin (Zocor) or 40 mg of pravastatin (Pravachol), or a placebo daily and were followed for 6 months.

Extrapolating from this study it is projected that one-fifth to two-fifths of the patients on a statin will experience statin-induced fatigue. Now let’s put that into perspective. That’s potentially more than the number of patient who stand to benefit from taking a statin.

Spinning the Numbers

The pharmaceutical industry can spin the numbers as well as any industry. For example, Lipitor reduces heart attacks by one-third at three and half years of use, which sounds really good. Now let’s look at the number spinning. In the case of Lipitor for every 100 people who took the drug 2 still got a  heart attack, and for every 100 patients given a placebo (sugar pill) 3 got a heart attack – our one-third reduction with statin (Lipitor) use. But, only person out of a hundred actually benefited from taking the statin, because 100 people had to take Liptor to see a reduction in just one heart attack. That’s called the number to treat and may be the best statistical tool to evaluate clinical drug studies.

Supporters of statins argue that statins are to be taken long-term and if you project out 30 years, then 7 to 11 patients would benefit for every 100 who take a statin. Does that sound good to you? Maybe. Compare this to eradicating the stomach ulcer causing bacteria, H. pylori. For every 11 patients treated with antibiotics, 10 benefit from the antibiotic therapy.

To better appreciate how pharmaceutical companies mislead the public read this article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  It’s pretty sad when you have to read a business journal to get this type of information on interpreting medical studies. Yes, a business publication may be a better watchdog of the drug industry than the medical profession.

Statins and CoQ10: the Energy Link

The same enzyme that statins inhibit to lower cholesterol is the same enzyme that helps to produce CoQ10. CoQ10 is a nutrient critical to energy production. Understanding this relationship makes it easier to understand why some patients taking statins develop not only fatigue, but also muscle aches, and even sluggish thinking. CoQ10 supplements can reverse the low energy state associated with statins.

Adverse Effects of Statins

Another consideration to bear in mind is that though statins do reduce risk of heart attack and stroke, mortality reduction has not been shown with statin use in people who have not yet had a heart attack (primary prevention). So if statins are reducing heart attacks and strokes, yet mortality rates with primary prevention are not changing that means the risk of death from other causes is increased.

Some studies show that statins increase the risk of suicide (and this article)and cancer, and more recently the risk of diabetes. We do need cholesterol. About 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the nervous system.  Statins can affect neurotransmitter function including that of serotonin. This might explain the possible increased risk in suicide and depression along with the fact if cholesterol is too low from statin therapy the brain may not function as designed.

What to Do?

Statins these days are prescribed like they’re candy, many times without a lot of thought.

Talk to your doctor about the need to be on a statin. If you have established heart disease or have had a heart attack it is most advisable to continue with a statin, because the benefits are clear in those cases.  If you just have high cholesterol plus or minus high blood pressure and no family history of heart disease there probably isn’t a strong enough reason to take a statin.

There are additional studies that can be performed to help the decision-making process. CT scanning of the heart vessels looking for calcium plaque, or CIMT ultrasound (carotid intima-medial thickening) are helpful diagnostics tests that will help you and your doctor decide if you should take a statin.

If you need to be on a statin, we advise that you take a CoQ10 supplement – 100 mg to 200 mg a day. If you develop low energy be sure to let your doctor know – keep in mind in may take several months for those symptoms to occur.

See related articles.

Coenzyme Q10: Power Plant Protector

Cholesterol Supplements For Those Concerned About Cholesterol

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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