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Bad news on CoQ10?

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:17pm

A review of the effects of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) on the muscle aches and weakness (myopathy) of statin drug therapy was just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

( Marcoff L, Thompson PD. The role of coenzyme Q10 in statin-associated myopathy. J Amer Coll Cardiol 2007;49(23):2231-2237 .)

This is not a study, but a review of the existing scientific and clinical data available on this topic. The study authors conclude with a lukewarm statement:

". . . there is insufficient evidence to prove the etiologic [causal] role of CoQ10 deficiency in statin-associated myopathy and that large, well-designed clinical trials are required to address this issue. The routine use of CoQ10 cannot be recommended in statin-treated patients. Nevertheless, there are no known risks to this supplement and there is some anecdotal and preliminary trial evidence of its effectiveness. Consequently, CoQ10 can be tested in patients requiring statin treatment, who develop statin myalgia, and who cannot besatisfactorily treated with other agents. Some patients may respond, if only via placebo effect ."

Should the media get hold of this report, be prepared for the usual "Nutritional supplement no help for drug toxicity" headlines, or "Yet another nutritional supplement shows no benefit" with parallels drawn to vitamin C or E.

There are several issue that need to be factored into the discussion:

1) This is not a study, just a review. Thus, any biases of the authors are more likely to exert themselves.

2) The understanding of CoQ10 absorption among different preparations may be an issue. I just received a mailing from Life Extension that made extravagant claims about the superior absorption of ubiquinol , to be distinguished from ubiquinone , the more common form. They claim that eight-fold increased absorption and blood levels of CoQ10 are achievable with ubiquinol. Unfortunately, virtually all the supportive data are unpublished, proprietary observations, i.e., generated by companies who make or sell it. This is as reliable as drug manufacturers who publish glowing reports on their own drugs--perhaps it's true, but it requires unbiased corroboration.

3) Despite the lack of a large, well-funded clinical trial (all are small), the issue continues to live and breathe because of the powerful anecdotal experience.

In our experience, CoQ10 does work. It doesn't work all of the time, perhaps just 80-90% of the time. It does generally require higher doses (100 mg per day, occasionally more). It very clearly must be an oil-based gelcap (just like vitamin D) to work; capsules containing powder do not work.

It's difficult to doubt when someone starts a statin drug, develops the muscle aches and weakness, begins CoQ10 and obtains distinct relief, stops CoQ10 and aches and weakness return, then only to go away again with resumption of CoQ10 . I've seen this countless times.

We do need better information on CoQ10. There's no doubt about it. For people who obtain benefit from statin therapy, I think CoQ10 remains a useful solution. A better solution would be to get rid of the offending drug. But that's not always possible--e.g., LDL cholesterol 190 mg/dl despite the best diet and "adjunctive" food effort. Then CoQ10 can be very useful.

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