A FOOD supplement available over the counter could halve the risk of death in patients suffering from heart failure, research suggests.
A study found that Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is also found in red meat and fish, significantly reduced the risk of patients suffering major heart problems.
The researchers said it was the first drug to improve heart failure death rates in more than a decade and should be added to standard treatment.
Campaigners called for more research before changes could be recommended to the way in which the condition is treated. In the latest study, being presented at the Heart Failure 2013 conference in Lisbon, researchers focused on 420 patients across Europe, Asia and Australia with severe heart failure who were given CoQ10 supplements or a placebo, and followed for two years.
The researchers found CoQ10 halved the risk of patients suffering a “major adverse cardiovascular event”, such as being admitted to hospital due to heart failure getting worse, or sudden death.
These events happened to 14 per cent of patients in the group taking CoQ10 compared to 25 per cent in the placebo group.
The study found that CoQ10 also halved the risk of patients dying from any cause, with 9 per cent dying in the group taking the supplement compared to 17 per cent in the placebo group.
The researchers said patients treated with CoQ10 had significantly lower rates of cardiovascular deaths and fewer hospitalisations due to heart failure.
Professor Svend Aage Mortensen, from University Hospital Copenhagen, said: “CoQ10 is the first medication to improve survival in chronic heart failure since ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers more than a decade ago and should be added to standard heart failure therapy.”
CoQ10 occurs naturally in the body and is a powerful antioxidant. But levels of CoQ10 decrease in the heart muscle of patients with heart failure, with the deficiency getting worse as the heart failure also worsens.
Drugs called statins are used to treat many patients with heart failure, but because they block the development of cholesterol, they also have an impact on CoQ10 and further decrease levels in the body.
Prof Mortensen said: “Supplementation with CoQ10, which is a natural and safe substance, corrects a deficiency in the body and blocks the vicious metabolic cycle in chronic heart failure called the energy-starved heart.”
However, Prof Mortensen cautioned against patients rushing to take the supplement.
“Food supplements can influence the effect of other medications including anticoagulants and patients should seek advice from their doctor before taking them,” he added.
Louise Peardon, deputy director of advice and support for charity Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, said: “These findings on the potential properties of naturally occurring antioxidants are encouraging, but the research is at a very early stage.”