Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance involved in energy production in cells. It is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect cells against the damaging effects of normal metabolic reactions.
As coenzyme Q10 is involved in energy production, it is concentrated within the cells’ powerhouses, the mitochondria. It forms a vital part of the electron transport chain that generates energy (in the form of a molecule called ATP) during aerobic cellular respiration. Ninety-five percent of your body’s energy are generated using CoQ10, and cells with the most mitochondria have the greatest needs.
A typical heart muscle cell contains 5000 or more mitochondria to supply the energy for regular contraction. Skeletal muscle cells in your thigh typically contain around 2000 mitochondria, but these increase in number and size with exercise so that cells in the hamstrings of an elite athlete may contain 4000 mitochondria or more. Organ cells, such as those in the liver, kidney and pancreas, are also well supplied, as are egg and sperm cells. In fact, the availability of co-enzyme Q10 is critical for optimum fertility.
Coenzyme Q10 levels decline with age
The amount of coenzyme Q10 you make peaks at around the age of 20 years, then declines so that, by the age of 40, the amount present in some cells is up to 32% lower than when you were in your 20s, and by the age of 80 has halved again.
Derived from: Kahn et al. Lipids 1989; 24(7):579-584
As CoQ10 availability declines, cells cannot generate energy as efficiently as they did, and function at a sub-optimal level. This has been suggested as one mechanism for cell ageing – falling coenzyme Q10 levels create a double whammy with energy production becoming less efficient as the same time as antioxidant protection is reduced.
Coenzyme Q10 benefits
Falling coenzyme Q10 levels are associated with many age-related health problems, including hypertension, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, macular degeneration in the retina and neurological degeneration associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia. Declining coenzyme Q10 levels may even play a role in the development of some cancers.
Coenzyme Q10 and heart disease
Biopsy studies show that three out of four people with heart problems are deficient in coenzyme Q10 , and in the case of heart failure, the lower the levels of coenzyme Q10, the more severe is their heart disease. Coenzyme Q10 supplements have improved heart pump action in people with congestive heart failure, and are recommended by some cardiologists in the United States and Japan especially.
Coenzyme Q10 and Statins
Statin drugs switch off both cholesterol and coenzyme Q10 production, and can halve circulating levels of co-enzyme Q10 within 2 to 4 weeks. This may contribute to muscle-related side effects experienced by some people taking a statin. Lower levels of vitamin D (made from cholesterol) may be involved, too.
Coenzyme Q10 and hypertension
Co-enzyme Q10 can help lower a high blood pressure by improving the elasticity and reactivity of the blood vessel wall. The results from 12 clinical trials, involving over 360 patients, showed that coenzyme Q10 supplements at relatively low doses of around 100mg per day could reduce average blood pressure by up to 17/10 mmHg compared with placebo.
Coenzyme Q10 and chronic fatigue
Coenzyme Q10 and fertility
Co-enzyme Q10 is essential for healthy sperm and eggs, and supplements have been shown to boost fertility in those who are having difficulty in conceiving.
Dietary sources of coenzyme Q10
You can obtain small amounts of coenzyme Q10 from cell-based foods such as offal, meat, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds and green leaves. Meat and fish are the richest source and levels over 50 mg/kg can be found in beef, pork, and chicken heart, and in chicken liver.
Some vegetable oils are good sources of coenzyme Q10 with olive oil providing up to 160mg/kg although only small amounts are usually included in the diet. Peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, broccoli, spinach, grapes, avocado and cauliflower are modest sources but most fruit and berries are poor sources.
Average daily dietary intakes are relatively low, at around 5mg for meat eaters and 1mg for vegetarians. To obtain the 100mg ubiquinol found in supplements you would need to eat 10kg broccoli, 3kg of prime steak, or 1.6kg sardines! Cooking, especially frying, reduces the coenzyme Q10 content of food by 14–32%.
Ubiquinone or ubiquinol?
Until recently, only the oxidised form of coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) was available. This must be converted into a reduced, active form (ubiquinol, or Co-enzyme QH) within cells for use in energy production. This conversion becomes increasingly less efficient with age.
Advances in manufacturing techniques mean that reduced ‘body-ready’ ubiquinol is now also available, although it tends to be more expensive. Opinions differ on whether or not the ubiquinol form (more bioavailable but more expensive) is better then the ubiquinone form, as discussed in the following clip.
If you are aged 50 or over, or on a statin, I would advise taking the ubiquinol form, but you can take a higher dose of ubiquinone if you prefer. The optimal dose depends on your age and the form of coenzyme Q10 you choose to take.
A dose of 100mg ubiquinol is equivalent to around 280mg ubiquinone.
- If you are under 30 years of age and in good general health, try a dose of 30mg ubiquinone.
- If you are aged 30 to 40 years and in good general health, a dose of 60 mg ubiquinone may be sufficient. If you are experiencing fatigue, reduced fertility, or are on a statin drug, try a dose of 100mg ubiquinol (or 200mg ubiquinone).
- If you are aged 40 to 50 years and in good general health, a dose of 100mg ubiquinone may be sufficient. If you have high blood pressure, are taking a statin or have heart problems, a dose of 200mg ubiquinone or 100mg ubiquinol may be better
- If you are over the age of 50, a dose of 100mg ubiquinol is ideal.
As coenzyme Q10 is fat soluble, it’s best taken with food to improve absorption. It usually takes at least three weeks and occasionally up to three months to notice the full benefits
A form known as mitoquinone has also been developed which carries a positive electrical charge to enhance its passage across the mitochondrial membrane into the negatively charged interior of mitochondria. This ‘super bioavailable’ form is more expensive but is needed in smaller amounts, at a typical dose of 10mg, and may be suitable for those with mitochondrial dysfunction who have not obtained sufficient benefit from ubiquinol coenzyme Q10.
Side effects of coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 supplements are well tolerated, with no serious side effects. Only occasional and transient, mild nausea has been reported even at very high doses.
Have you used co-enzyme Q10? If so what for, and did you find it helpful? If you have any comments or questions, please use the form below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Click here to read my Expert Health Review on the best co-enzyme Q10 supplements.
Image credits: funny_angel/shutterstock