Ubiquinol and Your Heart

By Ron Hunninghake, M.D.

CoQ10, ubiquinone, and now… ubiquinol: these are the names of a 35-year-old nutrient. In this article, I hope to show you that the molecule that bears these various names is your heart’s most important nutrient!

Actually, your heart’s most important “nutrient” is oxygen. Take away oxygen and you are dead in three minutes! Oxygen makes up about 20% of the air we breathe. Because we breathe it, scientists don’t actually consider it a nutrient. Nutrients are essential food substances – essential because our cells cannot synthesize these compounds.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that we get from food. However, our skin is able to make it when we are out in the midday sun’s UV rays. Therefore, nutritional scientists refer to vitamin D as a “conditionally essential nutrient.”

This brings us back to the main character of this story: CoQ10. Our livers can make this multi-named nutrient. Unfortunately, this amount alone is often insufficient to allow our cells to produce energy.

Because your heart beats about 100,000 times a day, it is your body’s most “energy-needy” organ. Your heart’s health is directly related to its ability to generate cellular energy.

As you might now surmise, CoQ10 is crucial for energy production. How this happens will also explain the difference between the two main scientific names of CoQ10: ubiquinone and ubiquinol.

CoQ10 is an electron transport molecule. It shuttles the energetically charged electron of oxygen into the cell’s mitochondria where glucose and fatty acids are biochemically oxidized into the energy that literally powers “the heart beat of life!”

Oxidation is a “double-edged sword.” Oxidation is needed to burn calories in order to generate energy. However, this “burning” can do damage to our cellular structures and cause premature aging and disease of our hearts.

What our heart cells need is a molecule that both transports electrons AND regulates oxidation. This is precisely CoQ10’s role in the heart.

To better understand this fine balance, consider what happens when you cut open a fresh apple: if on one side you squeeze lemon juice and the other side you just leave open to the air. In a short time, the unprotected side will turn brown (due to oxidation) and will start to go bad.  The keyword here is “unprotected.”

How does the lemon juice prevent the oxygen in the air from oxidizing the raw and exposed apple half? Lemon juice contains vitamin C and other phytonutrient anti-oxidants. These are naturally occurring molecules that protect our cells (and the cells of the apple) from the damaging effects of oxygen.

CoQ10 is a fat-soluble antioxidant found in ALL fat-containing structures of ALL cells; it is ubiquitous … which means that it is “everywhere” in the body. CoQ10 occurs in two forms: the one that has lost an electron is ubiquinone. This is the oxidized form of CoQ10. The reduced form of CoQ10 (which has regained its electron) is ubiquinol.

Fortunately, every cell has the ability to recharge the oxidized ubiquinone back to the more energetic ubiquinol by adding an electron back to its original structure. As youngsters, this ability allows us to run and play all day!

Research has shown that around age 20, our cells begin to lose their ability to refresh oxidized molecules like ubiquinone. It’s almost as if the molecules themselves begin to … well … age! This is due to a weakening of the cell’s mitochondria to perform the efficient transfer of electrons. Excessive oxidation damages and slows this key life process.

By age 40, there are measurable declines in CoQ10 in the heart and other oxygen-hungry organs like your brain, gut, and muscles. Oxidation begins to cause serious damage, degeneration, and frank disease. Heart failure is but one major example.

Both forms of CoQ10 are needed to properly shuttle electrons between crucial energy-producing bio-reactions in your cells. In youth, ubiquinone picks up the electrons, and ubiquinol drops them off. With aging, the process lags.

Of the two forms of CoQ10, ubiquinol is the more energetic form. Prior to the discovery of ubiquinol, the old oxidized ubiquinone first had to be “recharged” by the cell’s mitochondria. Since that process slows as we age, having the “fully charged” molecule ubiquinol, ready to go into action is an important advantage.

So, if you are in the “over-the-40s-hill” club, you may have some heart cells that need an “energizer bunny” form of CoQ10 – ubiquinol!

Why is this? More recent studies of CoQ10 suggest that circulating plasma levels of the older, oxidized form may have been too low in these earlier studies to show a consistent
clinical benefit.

The older, oxidized CoQ10 has a bit of a checkered past in the research field.  It has been shown to:

  • Help heart failure … but only sometimes;
  • Slow Parkinson’s … but only at very high and expensive doses;
  • Treat asthma … but only inconsistently;
  • Protect the heart of many chemotherapy patients who are receiving cardiotoxic adriomycin … but not always.

Enter ubiquinol, to which Cleveland Clinic cardiologists have ascribed up to five-to-seven times the potency of ubiquinone in older patients! Patients being treated there for advanced heart failure have responded much better to ubiquinol than to the old CoQ10. CoQ10 comes from three sources:

1. Synthesis in the liver 2. Food 3. Supplementation.

Synthesis: Your body makes some of the ubiquinol you need to be healthy (unless you are over 40 or if you are taking a cholesterol-lowering statin drug … then this supply can be compromised.)
Food: You get additional ubiquinol from your food (unless you get less than 80% of your diet from whole, fresh foods.)
Supplementation: Many people try to guess their optimal dose of CoQ10.

Here at Riordan Clinic, we advocate the scientifically valid method of measuring your level of CoQ10. If low, you can target your supplementation with ubiquinol. (Our Heart Health Panel has CoQ10 included as one of the key nutrients we suggest measuring.) Heart health depends on a healthy team of nutrients at the cellular level … your team depends upon a well-rounded whole foods diet … which depends on your knowledgeable choices. If you don’t know for sure whether or not you’ve chosen well … measure nutrient members of the team!

The key to heart health is YOU.

You are responsible for all the elements that go into owning and caring for a healthy heart:

  • Fresh, colorful foods, rich in natural antioxidants;
  • Control of systemic inflammation (know your CRP level);
  • Adequate micronutrient support of metabolic pathways (such as the monitoring of homocysteine, Lp(a), HDL, triglycerides, Hba1c, fibrinogen and other risk markers;)
  • Moderate aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching;
  • Proper body fat composition (keeping your visceral fat levels low);
  • Keeping your close relationships healthy and relatively stress-free
    … all of these elements go into maintaining a healthy heart

Ubiquinol is the empowered electron shuttle molecule that coordinates oxygen utilization and satisfies cellular respiration, leading to energy production and quality maintenance of life processes.

By the same token, ubiquinol gives rise to ubiquinone, which serves as the antioxidant that prevents premature loss of function, immune dysfunction, membrane dysfunction, aging, degeneration and death.

If you are over 40 and want to keep your heart both energetic and well, consider ubiquinol as your preferred form of CoQ10.

If you want to learn more about this topic, pick up a copy of my Basic Health Series book – Energy Boosting Supplements. Or schedule an appointment with a Riordan Clinic physician today to find out how ubiquinol can help you.