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Could Coenzyme Supplement Have Prevented Astronaut's Lipitor Induced Memory Loss?

Tim Boyer's picture
Human Memmory and Supplement Effect

In a recent episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz briefly advises viewers to try a supplement labeled as "CoQ10 Q-gels" on a large and otherwise non-descript brown bottle. This was part of a “supercharge your heart” health tip where he explained that taking CoQ10 supplements “fights inflammation and prolongs your health.” Unfortunately however, that’s all the information he provided. A quick search on the internet revealed the missing info plus a surprising contraindication for people on the cholesterol lowering drug Lipitor.

CoQ10 is a fat-soluble antioxidant and an essential component of a cell’s ability to produce energy in the form of ATP in the mitochondria—the "power-house" of the cell. About 95% of cellular energy is produced from the mitochondria, and diseases of aging including dementia marked by memory loss and decreased intellectual functioning are increasingly being referred to as "mitochondrial disorders."

As an individual ages, levels of CoQ10 from the cell’s mitochondria decrease and is believed to have an adverse effect on the brain. Studies have shown that CoQ10 supplements increases the mitochondria in brain cells and may promote neuroprotective affects for symptoms such as memory loss and dementia as seen in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.

Other studies have shown that the statin drug Lipitor causes a decrease in CoQ10, and former astronaut Dr. Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H. believes that Lipitor was the cause of his form of memory loss known as transient global amnesia, which begs the question—does Lipitor adversely affect the brain and could CoQ10 supplements offer protection?

Because of CoQ10’s antioxidant properties, previous clinical studies have focused on the effect of CoQ10 on heart disease. In the blood, CoQ10 is mainly transported by lipoproteins such as LDL and HDL and is believed to prevent the oxidation of lipoproteins, and thus potentially reduce the risk of arteries forming plaques and developing arteriosclerosis. Multiple studies have advocated the use of CoQ10 supplements as having the potential to heal the heart and related vessels shortly following a heart attack or after cardiac surgery. However, its use for treating heart disease is currently considered questionable and in need of more conclusive evidence.

Although it was well established that CoQ10 levels are especially high in the heart, kidneys and liver, more recent studies have shown significant expression in the brain and that supplemental CoQ10 may have important neuroprotective properties. In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that supplemental CoQ10 administered to laboratory animals resulted in the following findings:

• When coenzyme Q10 was administered to middle-age and old-age rats, the level of CoQ10 increased by 10% to 40% in the cerebral cortex region of the brain. This increase was sufficient to restore levels of CoQ10 to those seen in young animals.

• After only two months of CoQ10 supplementation, mitochondrial energy expenditure in the brain increased by 29%, compared with the group not getting CoQ10. The human equivalent dose of CoQ10 to achieve these results is 100 to 200 mg a day.

• When a neurotoxin was administered, CoQ10 helped protect against damage to the striatal region of the brain where dopamine is produced.

• When CoQ10 was administered to rats genetically bred to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) a significant increase in survival time was observed.

The researchers concluded that CoQ10 can exert neuroprotective effects that might be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative symptoms and diseases including memory loss.

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Other studies have demonstrated that CoQ10 might have brain related anti-aging properties and may be effective in preventing and/or treating patients with Parkinson’s disease. In one study of Parkinson’s patients, their brain cells were found to be suffering from impaired mitochondrial function and were 35% lower in CoQ10 levels in comparison to healthy same-age controls.

In fact, CoQ10 levels in the elderly are only 50% of the CoQ10 levels that young adults possess. This is due to reduced production of CoQ10 in the cells, along with increased oxidation of CoQ10 in the mitochondria. These findings have researchers currently investigating the efficacy of supplementation with CoQ10 toward preserving mitochondrial function.

However, more importantly, such research might resolve reports of incidences of memory loss associated with CoQ10-inhibiting cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor.

In a book titled “Lipitor: Thief of Memory” former astronaut Dr. Duane Graveline, M.D., M.P.H. describes his battle with the medical establishment in trying to get at the cause of his diagnosis of transient global amnesia that he attributes to his taking of Lipitor to treat his cholesterol.

Dr. Graveline explains that research has shown that the brain’s glial cells involved in synapse development generate their own cholesterol that is crucial to maintaining connections between the brain’s nerve cells. He posits that statin drugs like Lipitor can pass the brain-blood barrier and interfere with the synthesis of cholesterol needed for the synaptic connections.

Since Lipitor is known as a drug that can reduce CoQ10 levels in the body, and since the brain is a rich source of CoQ10, then is it a far stretch to imagine that Lipitor may be interfering with CoQ10 in the brain and may be potentially contributing to neurological disorders such as memory loss? Dr. Graveline states that his memory loss disappeared after discontinuing the Lipitor, only to reappear again when his doctor instructed him to take a lower dose.

Currently, the medical community does not recognize Lipitor as having an undesired effect on memory due to its interaction with CoQ10. Their primary argument is that if this were true, then why are we not seeing more reports of memory loss? A reasonable point, but then again memory loss is an easily missed symptom and may be underreported or assumed to be a natural part of aging or misdiagnosed as undermined dementia.

For now, CoQ10 supplements are considered safe with the only side effect being that of stomach ache and diarrhea. The gel capsule form is believed to be the most efficient form for getting CoQ10 into your bloodstream. Contraindications for taking CoQ10 include pregnancy and breast feeding, diabetes, chemotherapy medications, blood thinners and cholesterol medications. Health authorities recommend consulting with your physician before taking CoQ10 supplements.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

“Coenzyme Q10 administration increases brain mitochondrial concentrations and exerts neuroprotective effects” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA ; Vol. 95, pp. 8892-8897; July 1998; RT Matthews, L Yang, S Browne, M Baik and M Beal.

University of Maryland Medical Center