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Could supplements be the key to boosting survival from heart failure?

Taking supplements of a substance called Coenzyme Q10 could mean people with heart failure are more likely to live for longer, according to a new study. But we need more research to be sure it works and is safe.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?


Heart failure means your heart isn’t pumping blood around your body as well as it should. It is usually caused by damage to the heart, such as that caused by a heart attack. It can make you feel breathless and tired, and can cause symptoms such as a phlegmy cough and swollen ankles.

This study looked at whether taking a new treatment, supplements of a substance called Coenzyme Q10, could help people with heart failure to live for longer and avoid heart problems. Coenzyme Q10 is a substance similar to a vitamin found naturally in the body. People with heart failure have less of this substance than other people.

In this study, researchers divided 420 people with heart failure into two groups. Both groups of people were taking medicine to treat their heart disease. In addition to this, one group took 100 milligrams of Coenzyme Q10 three times a day, while the other group took a dummy pill. The researchers then recorded how many people died, and how many people had heart problems or needed to go to hospital because their symptoms suddenly got worse.

What does the new study say?

After two years:

  • About 14 in 100 people who took Coenzyme Q10 had serious heart problems, compared with 25 in 100 people who took dummy pills
  • About 9 in 100 people who took Coenzyme Q10 died, for any reason, compared with 17 in 100 people who took dummy pills
  • People who took Coenzyme Q10 were less likely than people who took dummy pills to die of heart failure, or need to go to hospital because of their heart failure symptoms.

How reliable is the research?

The design of this study - randomly dividing people into groups and comparing the effects of a treatment with a dummy pill - is similar to that used in good-quality studies. But this research hasn’t been published in a journal, so it hasn’t been carefully reviewed by other researchers in the way that journal-published articles are. This means we can’t be sure about the quality of this study, and we aren’t sure that the results are reliable.

We still don’t know much about coenzyme Q10. We need much larger and longer studies to be sure of its effects. It may be that Coenzyme Q10 does help people with heart failure more than having no treatment at all, but we still don’t know if it is better than, or as safe as, existing treatments.

What does this mean for me?

The researchers have made some bold claims about the potential benefits of Coenzyme Q10, and they argue that it should be considered as a useful treatment. Coenzyme Q10 is available to buy as a health supplement, but there is not enough evidence from this study alone to suggest it’s a good idea to start taking it if you have heart failure. If you are taking prescription medicines, especially for a serious condition like heart failure, you should always tell your doctor if you are thinking of taking any supplements.

Published on May 25, 2013

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