Statins are a class of drug that lowers cholesterol by reducing the production of cholesterol within the liver (Ogbru, et al., n.d.). These drugs are used to treat atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the arteries) that causes chest pain and heart attacks, but also aids in lowering simple high cholesterol one might have (Ogbru, et al., n.d.). With statins reducing production of cholesterol in the liver, it blocks the enzyme that produces the cholesterol: hydroxy-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase also known as HMG-CoA reductase or mevalonate (Ogbru, et al., n.d.). Scientifically, statins are referred to as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (Ogbru, et al., n.d.).
The statins that are approved and in use in the United States: atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol and Lescol XL), lovastatin (Mevacor and Altoprev), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), simvastatin (Zocor), and pitavastatin (Livalo) (Ogbru, et al., n.d.). According to Ogbru, et al. (n.d.), “Statins differ in their ability to reduce cholesterol. Lipitor and Crestor are most potent, while Lescol is least potent.” The drugs also differ in how strongly they interact with other pharmaceuticals (Ogbru, et al., n.d.).
Although statins are focused on reducing the production of cholesterol, you have to also look out for having too low of cholesterol. “Lower cholesterol is usually better, but in rare cases, having a very low level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol or a very low total cholesterol level has been associated with some health problems” (Lopez-Jimenez, 2015). These health problems include increased risk of cancer, hemorrhagic stroke, depression, anxiety, preterm birth and low birth weight if your cholesterol is low while you are pregnant (Lopez-Jimenez, 2015).
Not only do those who are taking statins have to deal with possible low cholesterol levels, but they also have to deal with a blockage of coenzyme Q10 also known as CoQ10 (Deichmann, et al., 2010). This enzyme is important for a healthy body as it aids in a healthy heart, brain, and overall health. According to Deichmann et al. (2010), “Studies have also shown a benefit of coenzyme Q10 administration in the mitochondrial function of heart muscle.” With that being said, CoQ10 is especially important for the heart. Deichmann et al. (2010) did a study of two different statins: atorvastatin and simvastatin. “In humans, exposure to atorvastatin, 80 mg for 14 to 30 days, caused a significant reduction in coenzyme Q10 levels of 34 subjects both at day 14 and at day 30. Simvastatin, 20 mg daily, and pravastatin, 20 mg daily, have also been associated with a 40% reduction in coenzyme Q10 levels.”
Unfortunately, there are side effects of taking statins. According to Ogbru, et al. (n.d.), some side effects include headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, rash, weakness, and muscle pain, with liver failure and rhabdomyolysis (injury or death of muscle tissue) being the most serious. In Therapeutics Letter, researchers found that statins “decrease energy and fitness, and increase fatigue and sleep problems. They also found that statins may increase the risk of muscle aches and pains, kidney and liver problems, bleeding in the brain, and type 2 diabetes” (Goodman, 2014). According to another source, “The most concerning adverse reaction with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) is myotoxicity (having a toxic effect on muscles” (Nawarskas, 2005).
If you are on a statin or thinking about starting on one, I suggest you consider taking the vital nutrient CoQ10.
By Dr. Nicole Cain with Claire Booth
Ogbru, O., Marks, J.W., & Davis, C.P. n.d. Statins. Retrieved from
Lopez-Jimenez, F. (2015, October 30). Cholesterol Level: Can it be too low? Retrieved from
Deichmann, R., Lavie, C., & Andrews, S. (2010). Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced
Mitochondrial Dysfunction. The Ochsner Journal, 10(1), 16-21. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096178/
Goodman, B. (2014). More Docs Wonder If Statins Are Worth the Risks. Retrieved from
Nawarskas, J.J. (2005). HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors and Coenzyme Q10. Cardiol Rev, 13(2),
76-9. doi 10.1097/01.crd.0000154790.42283.a1