CoQ10: The Energy Nutrient

By Chad Krier, N.D., D.C.

Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble vitamin-like substance present in every cell of the body. It serves as a coenzyme for several of the key enzymatic steps in the production of ENERGY within the cell. It also functions as an antioxidant, a potent free radical scavenger. Coenzymes are cofactors that large and complex enzymes depend on for their function. Enzymes are complex proteins that induce chemical changes in other substances without being changed themselves (help with chemical reactions). Coenzyme Q10 helps our mitochondrial (powerhouses) enzymes work to produce energy through its role in the electron transport chain. Mitochondrial enzymes help take our food and turn it into energy. Namely, mitochondrial enzymes utilize carbs and fats to create a high energy phosphate molecule known as ATP (no — this is not what the Indians used as shelter). All cellular functions in our body require Energy, which comes in the form of ATP.

Raising CoQ10 levels can have a positive impact on many disorders.

CoQ10 is especially important for the cells/tissues that are the most metabolically active like our heart, immune cells, stomach, and gingiva. One thing that needs constant replenishing is our energy reserves. We can only store about 3 ounces of ATP in our body at any one time. Without constant regeneration, exercises like running would deplete our body stores of ATP in 5-8 seconds. CoQ10 not only keeps us up and running by helping in the production of energy, it also protects our cells through its free radical fighting abilities. It works as a co-antioxidant alongside vitamins E and C by donating its electrons to them (buddies).

We can make CoQ10 from the amino acid tyrosine in a multistage process that requires vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. CoQ10 is similar in structure to fat soluble vitamin K. Not only can we make CoQ10 but we can also get it from food sources. Most organ meats such as heart, liver, and kidney contain CoQ10, as well as beef, soy oil, sardines, mackerel, and peanuts. It can be difficult to obtain therapeutic levels of CoQ10 from diet alone. To put it into perspective, it would take one pound of sardines or two pounds of beef, or two and one half pounds of peanuts to provide 30 mg of CoQ10 (yikes!).

A CoQ10 deficient state may occur from low dietary intake, impairment in CoQ10 synthesis(can you say Statins), and excessive utilization of CoQ10 by the body. CoQ10 levels tend to peak around age 20 and slowly decline thereafter. The decrease in CoQ10 levels over time is consistent with the free radical theory of aging which states that aging is an accumulation of oxidants that overwhelm our antioxidant reserves. As our CoQ10 levels decline, so goes our cellular energy production. Diminished energy and antioxidant capacity can equate to not only aging but also disease.  With this in mind, it’s no surprise that raising CoQ10 levels can have a positive impact on many disorders.

CoQ10 has shown the ability to prevent metastases and enhance remission in breast cancer. Thirty-two patients with high risk breast cancer were treated with 1.2glinolenic acid, 3.5g omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants(beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium), and 90 mg CoQ10. No patient died during the study and all expressed a feeling of well being. All participants were still living 2 years past the study (researchers expected at least 6 deaths by that time). Remission of breast tumors occurred in 6 of 32 patients (ages between 48 and 82). Morphine dosages used for pain control were reduced and metastasis was not observed. It was discovered that 2 of the women who went into remission were taking between 300-390 mg of CoQ10 daily. Around 20% of breast cancer patients have low levels of CoQ10. Those with breast cancer should supplement with CoQ10 in the higher dosage range. CoQ10 may work against cancer through a process called redox cycling and immune system enhancement.

As CoQ10 is important for the health of metabolically active tissues, it has shown benefit in fighting periodontal disease and healing gastric ulcers. Low CoQ10 levels are often found in obese patients who may have lower levels of mitochondria in their muscles. Sedentary subjects who supplemented with CoQ10 were able to improve their maximum oxygen consumption and exercise capacity. In rat studies, combining CoQ10 with propionyl L-carnitine, nicotinamide, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid created positive functional changes on motor performance of skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle. The functional changes allowed the rat to increase work capacity by 160%. CoQ10 has also shown benefit in migraine treatment.Supplementing150 mg per day of CoQ10 for 3 months reduced the number of migraines by 50%. Researchers theorize that migraines may be a result of mitochondrial impairment. Other conditions where CoQ10 has proved helpful include fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, allergies, diabetes, and asthma.

By far most of the research on CoQ10 has focused on the cardiovascular system and the brain. CoQ10 is especially indicated for the enhancement of myocardial (heart) function by enhancing energy production, improving contractility (contraction capability) of the cardiac muscle, and providing potent antioxidant activity, in particular prevention of LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation. Our hearts beat at least 100,000 times per day so they need lots of ATP. CoQ10 levels are often depressed in the myocardial tissue and blood samples of patients with cardiac disease. The magnitude of the deficiency is proportionate to the severity of the disease.

CoQ10 has shown the ability to lower blood pressure (mean decrease in systolic blood pressure =16 mmHg, diastolic = 10mmHg)in at least 8 clinicalstudiesusingdosagesinthe100-200 mg per day range. CoQ10 also helps keep our blood flowing by decreasing levels of eicosanoids (chemicals) associated with vasoconstriction and decreased platelet aggregation.CoQ10 has shown the ability to decrease blood viscosity in ischemic heart disease patients and decrease platelet aggregation and platelet size in healthy CoQ10 seems to inhibit platelet stickiness in the arteries, helping to prevent
thrombosis and embolism. CoQ10 should be used with all heart attack sufferers.

In one study, patients with acute myocardial infarction were given 120 mg per day of CoQ10 for 28 days. CoQ10 supplemented patients showed significant reduction in angina, arrhythmias, and left ventricular dysfunction. A reduction in total cardiac events and decreased indicators of oxidative stress were noted in the CoQ10 supplemented patients. Researchers concluded that CoQ10 can provide rapid protective effects in patients with acute heart attack if administered within 3 days of symptom onset. CoQ10 has also shown benefit in congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, and atherosclerosis.

As far as the brain goes, a bulk of the research on CoQ10 has focused on Parkinson’s disease. Poor mitochondrial functioning is believed to injure the dopaminergic neurons in the part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Mitochondria from platelets of patients with Parkinson’s disease have reduced levels of coenzyme Q10. Treatment with coenzyme Q10 does at least partly correct the mitochondrial transport defect associated with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s studies are utilizing very high levels of CoQ10 (around 1200 to 2400 mg per day) in conjunction with vitamin E with no apparent adverse effects beyond the price of the CoQ10. CoQ10 slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease around 44%. The greatest benefits of CoQ10 for Parkinson patients were observed in activities of daily living such as feeding, dressing, bathing, and walking.

Overall CoQ10 has the power to turn on our energy powerhouses to promote vitality. CoQ10 is best taken with food (fat soluble) in the dosage range of 50 mg up to 2400 mg, depending on the situation.