CoQ10: The Heart of the Matter

CoQ10: The Heart of the Matter
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also commonly known by the names of its oxidized and reduced forms ubiquinone and ubiquinol, is one of our body’s most essential bionutrients. It is a potent, lipid-soluble antioxidant found in every one of our fifty trillion cells—and it is the only lipid-soluble antioxidant our bodies actually synthesize. The concentration of CoQ10 is greatest in organs with high rates of metabolism, such as the heart, kidney, adrenals, spleen and liver. Because of its energy-rich, antioxidant-rich ability, it has a significant, broad impact on aging and health. CoQ10 supports the health of the circulatory system, lungs, brain, nervous system, reproductive system, and the eyes and oral tissues.1
CoQ10 is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals and reactive oxygen species, preventing lipid, protein and DNA oxidation. Like all antioxidants, CoQ10 exists in an electron-rich reduced form called CoQH2 or ubiquinol, which donates electrons to highly reactive, unstable molecules called free radicals—and stabilizes them. Once it has donated its electrons, it is oxidized to ubiquinone, and then the body adds electrons back to it, essentially recycling it to once again scavenge free radicals.
CoQ10 is very important for the health of our mitochondria, the energy powerhouses that reside in all of our cells. It is essential to the process of cellular respiration that produces energy (in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP). And thus, it plays a key role in cardiovascular health and healthy aging.2
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The heart beats 100,000 times each day, and 2.5 billion times by age 70, which requires a huge amount of energy. The heart, comprised of muscle tissue, contains the largest amount of energy-generating mitochondria of any muscle, so it is not surprising that CoQ10 has been shown to be very important for cardiovascular health.3
CoQ10 inhibits the peroxidation of cell membrane lipids, and has been shown to decrease the concentration of lipid hydroperoxides (damaged lipids which generate further oxidative damage) in atherosclerotic lesions, simultaneously minimizing the size of these lesions in the heart’s aorta.4 It also prevents both the initiation and the propagation of lipid peroxidation, while vitamin E, in contrast, only inhibits propagation.5In animal studies, CoQ10 helped protect against aging-related oxidative stress, and also improved mitochondrial function in the heart.6 A landmark 1985 double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study found significant benefits of CoQ10 in heart failure, including improvements in cardiac function and well-being.7
CoQ10 levels tend to be lower in individuals with high cholesterol compared to healthy individuals of the same age. Worsening the situation, certain cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins inhibit the same enzyme that is necessary to make CoQ10, known as HMG-CoA reductase, and can lead to further decreases.8,9 CoQ10 supplementation may decrease the muscle pain associated with statin treatment.10
CoQ10 CD html 4c5ec084The antioxidant activity of CoQ10 is significant. The inner membrane of each mitochondrion contains CoQ10 as well as vitamin E in the form of α-tocopherol, both of which have antioxidant properties. CoQ10 and α-tocopherol act together to quench free radicals during autoxidation of mitochondrial membranes.11,12
This action is important, because oxidative stress—often triggered by environmental toxins, stress, and chronic inflammation—can impair mitochondrial function and thus contribute to aging and disease. Healthy mitochondria function is not only important for cardiovascular health and muscle function, but also for the function of our brain. Impairments in mitochondrial function have been demonstrated in Alzheimer's and other dementias, Down syndrome, stroke, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington's disease, and more.13
CoQ10 is neuroprotective. In studies of Parkinson’s patients, it appeared to protect against the well-known “wearing off” effect that occurs with long-term levodopa use. It also significantly improved symptoms, and was found to be safe and well tolerated.14 In animal studies, it has been shown to actually increase concentration of the nutrient in mitochondria in the brain. As the researchers note: “If defects in energy metabolism and oxidative damage play a role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, then treatment with coenzyme Q10 could exert beneficial therapeutic effects.”15
When we are young and healthy, we synthesize CoQ10 readily on our own. However, this requires a 17-step process dependent on at least seven vitamins (vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, and folic acid) and several trace elements. Renowned chemist Karl Folkers, whose laboratory helped synthesize CoQ10, argued that suboptimal nutrient intake is nearly universal and that this might lead to widespread impairment in CoQ10 biosynthesis.16 Moreover, stress—such as illness or an accident—also depletes this essential molecule. Decreased blood levels of CoQ10 are seen in a broad range of critically ill patients.17
CoQ10 CD html 721e0ab2Though CoQ10 can be found in oily fish (such as salmon and tuna), organ meats (such as liver), and whole grains, it can be hard to get all we need as we get older. A slow continuous decline in our own production of CoQ10 becomes apparent around forty years of age, and by age 80 we will only be making about 35% of your youthful levels.18 “A steady, lifetime decrease in CoQ10 is far more common than we may have assumed,” states biochemist Magnus Bentinger of Stockholm University and the Rolf Luft Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology in Stockholm.19 Declining levels of CoQ10 are associated with heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes, and the loss of stamina and energy that accompanies aging.7 Research suggests that CoQ10 may even help protect female reproductive capacity, which declines dramatically after age forty. Aging of female eggs (oocytes) are accompanied by mitochondrial dysfunction and diminished expression of the enzymes responsible for CoQ10 production.20
CoQ10 might even help retard aging of the skin, since it is necessary for the function of mitochondria within the cells of the skin as well. Because of this, CoQ10 also has been studied as a wrinkle-preventing, anti-aging skin molecule.21 It has been shown to exert protective effects against sun damage through its antioxidant action as well.22
Gastrointestinal absorption of supplemental CoQ10 is limited, but it is dramatically increased in a nanoemulsified liposomal format, which allows for direct uptake into the into circulation, and also promotes delivery into the cell and mitochondria where its benefits are most seen.23
Read more about mitochondria and their importance for health and aging

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20 Ben-Meir A, Burstein E, Borrego-Alvarez A Coenzyme Q10 restores oocyte mitochondrial function and fertility during reproductive aging Aging Cell. 2015;10;14(5):887-95.View Full Paper

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