“Your Cholesterol is too high,”  says your doctor. But instead of discussing how diet and exercise may impact your cholesterol levels, you may be simply offered a “little pill.” Although you as a patient may want to think that your doctor would discuss the risks vs benefits of taking a statin medication, in some cases, you won’t be told anything about the risks and simply offered a prescription when you walk out the door of your physician’s office.

At least 12 million Americans take  prescription statin medications.  Included in this class of medicines are the following drugs: Atovastatin (Lipitor), Fluvastatin (Lescol), Lovastatin (Mevacor), Pravastatin (Pravachol), Simvastatin (Zocor),
This can be problematic because statin medications can have harmful side effects.

Statin Medication Side Effects

Elevation of a muscle enzyme called CPK can occur with statin use, and cause muscle pain and weakness which can take a very long time to resolve.  One of the most significant side effects with statin use is called rhabdomyolysis.  This can cause muscles in various places across the body to become weak and the condition is extremely painful due to the inflammation in the muscle as well as muscle damage that can occur. This sets off a cascade of other problems including the elevation of CPK and kidney issues which work overtime to remove the products of muscle breakdown from the body through the urine.  Proteins in damaged muscles can build up in the kidneys, sometimes causing permanent kidney failure or possibly death.  Although this condition is thought to be rare, most patients taking statin drugs may not have been told about the risk.

cholesterolloweringdrugs Statins can also lower Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels in the cells which can be problematic. As a component that is found naturally in your body, CoQ10 in the mitochondria of your cells, which is the area responsible for producing energy is a compound that you want to preserve not lower.  Because CoQ10 is needed to make another important molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is responsible for a variety of processes in the body including that of muscle contraction and protein production, reduction of CoQ10 levels can have many negative consequences.

Adequate amounts of CoQ10 in your system have also been linked to beneficial effects on prevention and treatment of heart disease.  With additional benefits of increasing the production of energy within cells, the inhibition of clot formation and it’s role as an antioxidant, patients need to be aware of the importance of oQ10 and how statin use impacts CoQ10  thresholds.

Studies have shown that patients with heart failure have low levels of CoQ10. And in those patients who’ve already experienced a heart attack, study group participants who were given CoQ10 were found to have less chest pain and were less likely to have recurrent heart attacks than those who were not given CoQ10.

Lowered levels of CoQ10 were also found in patients with high cholesterol as compared to other patients with normal cholesterol levels even without the administration of statin drugs. When you add a statin to a patient whose CoQ10 level is already depleted, you risk reducing the CoQ10 levels even further.

Statin medications are not the only method for reducing levels of cholesterol in the body. In an upcoming segment, we’ll talk about more natural, healthy mechanisms of lowering your cholesterol that does not involve taking  a cholesterol lowering statin medication.  Before starting on any prescription medication you should always ask your doctor to give you information on the side effects of a potential medication so that you can make an informed decision as to the risk vs. benefits of the medication that has been prescribed for you. Asking your pharmacist about side effects and alternatives to statin drugs may also provide you with some valuable information for your decision making process.

As always, knowledge is power. And statin medications are not as benign as you may think. Researching the side effects and understanding how statin medications may impact your body should be done before taking this or any other prescription medication. Don’t let your doctor tell you you are going to take a “little pill.” Insist on full and complete disclosure from your health care professionals so that you will be an informed healthcare consumer.