CoQ10: for Energy, Brain & Heart Health
11 August 2019
CoQ10, short for coenzyme Q10, is a natural, vitamin-like compound that’s not widely known but should be, as it’s vitally important for our health, hold on to your hats!
Produced by your body and found in almost every cell, It’s a major player in the electron transport chain (cast your mind back to biology O level), the process your body uses to create energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) within the mitochondria.
It is also an important antioxidant protecting our cells from oxidative damage from free radicals - and thus ageing!
What Are Free Radicals?
The definition in chemistry of free radicals is “uncharged molecules (typically highly reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valence electron.” What this means is that free radicals are unstable molecules, meaning they’re always on the lookout for chemical components that other cells have but that they themselves are missing. Electrons exist in pairs, and free radicals are missing an electron. It’s a bit like the infamous comment made by Lady Diana regarding her marriage, having three people in a relationship: Prince Charles, Lady Diana and Camilla - 2 are a pair, when there’s a 3rd it becomes an unstable environment!
Although free radicals are indeed harmful, their production within the body is certainly not abnormal or even entirely bad. Despite contributing to the ageing process, free radicals are also essential players in the immune system. Our bodies produce free radicals as byproducts of cellular reactions, the digesting of foods, and simply breathing. The liver produces and uses free radicals for detoxification, while immune cells produce Oxygen-derived free radicals to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
What Is “Oxidative Stress” and How Do Antioxidants Fit In?
Free radicals react with cells, muscles, tissue and organs in the body and “oxidise” them. Oxidation is the same process that turns an apple brown or rusts metal. This does not sound like a good thing to be happening to our cells, muscles, tissue or organs! The amount of oxidation in the body is a measure of what we term oxidative stress.
High levels of oxidative stress and free radicals ultimately harm and age the body over time because they damage DNA, cellular membranes, and enzymes. Affecting every organ and system in the body, high levels have been linked with everything from Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, heart disease to accelerated ageing, asthma and diabetes. But, we do have a backup plan - antioxidants! They counteract free radicals because they donate an electron to free radicals to “stabilise ” - pair them up.
We have built-in (endogenous) antioxidant systems which are the first line of defence against oxidative stress on the body: superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase.
Other major antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E; flavonoids; selenium and the focus of this blog CoQ10.
How do we make it?
CoQ10 is made in the body from the molecule Acetyl CoA and HMG-CoA reductase is the rate-controlling enzyme (of the mevalonate pathway), that goes onto produce cholesterol and ubiquinone/ coq10. Ubiquinone and CoQ10 are names that are used interchangeably as they refer to the inactive form. The Ubiquinone form of coQ10 must be then “reduced” (which means a chemical reaction that involves the gaining of electrons) to the active form - ubiquinol.
This is the exact pathway that statins work on. They block the enzyme HMG CoA Reductase that the liver uses to make cholesterol. BUT, now we understand this pathway, we can see they also stop the production of CoQ10! And this is why a significant side effect of being on a statin is low energy and muscle pain - compromised production of ATP within the mitochondria!
Levels of CoQ10 decrease naturally with age and are lower in patients with diseases that are characterised by inflammation and oxidative stress, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, brain function and type 2 diabetes. And while a certain amount of CoQ10 can be found in food, the amount generally is not enough to significantly increase levels within the body. So, this is a supplement I consider in my practice when working with clients that have conditions of compromised energy, such as CFS and fibromyalgia as well as brain-health, high blood pressure or are on a statin.
Summary benefits of CoQ10
1. Essential For Our Natural Energy Production
CoQ10 plays a role in “mitochondrial ATP synthesis,” which is the conversion of basic energy from carbohydrates and fats into the form of energy that our cells use called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This process requires the presence of coenzyme Q10 in the mitochondrial membrane.
The process of making ATP is crucial to every single cell in the human body to do what that cell is designed to do - a gut cell, a muscle cell or brain cell. The creation of ATP is vital, and it needs CoQ10 to do that.
CoQ10 may even improve specific fatigue related to exercise. Three separate double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in humans have shown improvements in exercise-related fatigue when supplemented with CoQ10 (at dosages between 100–300 milligrams per day). (6, 7, 8)
2. Reduces Free Radical Damage
Oxidative stress or free radical damage of cell structures plays an important role in the functional declines that accompany ageing and cause dis-ease. As both a water- and fat-soluble antioxidant, CoQ10 has been found to inhibit lipid peroxidation, which occurs when cell membranes are exposed to oxidising conditions. Within the mitochondria, coenzyme Q10 has been found to protect membrane proteins and DNA from the oxidative damage and neutralise free radicals directly that contribute to nearly all age-related diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, neurological disease, etc.).
3. Can Improve Heart Health and Offset Effects of Statin Drugs
As explained previously CoQ10 supplementation would be highly useful for anyone taking statins, since it can lower side effects that they often cause. This study shows at doses of 100–225 mg per day, CoQ10 reduces systolic blood pressure by 15 mgHg and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mgHg. CoQ10 is fat-soluble, which means it’s best to take with meals that contain fat.
4. Slows Down Effects of Ageing
Mitochondrial ATP synthesis is an important function for maintaining strength of muscles, youthful skin and healthy tissue, and abnormal mitochondrial can cause issues. Tissue levels of coenzyme Q10 have been reported to decline with age, and this is believed to contribute to declines in energy metabolism and degeneration of organs, such as the liver and heart, and skeletal muscle.
5. May Protect Cognitive Health
In those with cognitive impairments, increased oxidative stress in the brain is thought to contribute to symptoms. CoQ10 has been shown to offset decreases in activity of mitochondrial electron transport chains that affect nerve channels and brain function, and studies show that people with cognitive disorders tend to have reduced levels of CoQ10 in their blood.
Multiple clinical trials and case reports have found that CoQ10 may be a powerful natural method of supporting fibromyalgia symptoms. In adults, the dosage was typically 300 milligrams per day. Improvements include reduction of overall pain symptoms, less headaches and reduction of fatigue/tiredness.
CoQ10 is found in minimal quantities of food that even a “healthy” diet might be an impractical way to meet the daily recommended dosages. Taking a daily, high-quality CoQ10 supplement can bridge this gap.
As I mentioned previously, there are two forms of CoQ10, and available in supplement form: ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Typically recommended dosage is between 100-200 milligrams each day for most conditions. As it’s fat-soluble it’s best to take CoQ10 with a meal containing fat. If you take a CoQ10 dosage that exceeds 100 mg per day, it’s best to split doses into two or three smaller servings, which will help with absorption.
I stock a number of CoQ10 supplements to support clients with energy levels and cell health:
I'll also be exploring the role CoQ10 has to offer in the context of Chronic Fatigue (CFS), pain & associated conditions such as Fibromyalgia - with a specific focus on functional clinical applications at the September Chronic Pain & Fatigue: Causes and Functional Approaches Masterclass.
In health, Tanya x