Coenzyme Q10: The Powerhouse Antioxidant

By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac, MSOM

*This topic deserves an entire paper written on it! It is so overlooked in the medical community, yet so important to our vitality and well-being. I will try to keep this as concise as possible, but prepare your brains for some science. Whether you are suffering with health problems or not, this is a must read.*

Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, is a compound that helps generate energy in our cells. There are many different uses for CoQ10, but one of its major roles in the body is to help convert the food we eat into energy to power our bodies and brain. It is an antioxidant that is naturally found everywhere in the body, but particularly concentrated in the mitochondria of our cells. If you remember from high school biology, mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of cells; they are in charge of energy production. One of the most critical reactions CoQ10 assists in is the production of ATP in the mitochondria which is considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life. CoQ10 is therefore vital for good health, high-energy levels, longevity, and general quality of life!

CoQ10’s antioxidant properties, along with the mitochondria, help protect cells from oxidative damage and disease-causing bacteria or viruses by eliminating free radicals. Free radicals are natural by-products of some cellular reactions. Excessive amounts can lead to oxidative damage which can interfere with regular cell functioning. Too many free radicals in the body are directly correlated with numerous chronic health conditions as well as the aging process. CoQ10 unfortunately decreases as we age. By our early 20s, levels already begin to deplete! Yikes! In addition, your body's levels of CoQ10 drop further if your body's utilization of CoQ10 is increased. Intense exercise, as well as the increase in metabolic rate which occurs with intense training, both increase your body's utilization of CoQ10.

According to Dr. Ilene Ruhoy, an integrative neurologist, “energy production and CoQ10 are intricately connected ” turning your food and oxygen into energy in the form of ATP.  Energy conversion in the body is one of those things we rarely think about, but it is crucial to our overall health. We can eat all the amazing, nutritious foods we want, but if our bodies cannot take those nutrients and convert them into usable energy—a process that takes place inside our cells and is the mitochondria’s main job—what good is all that healthy food we are eating.

According to PubMed, some causes of CoQ10 deficiency include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B6 deficiency

  • Genetic defects in CoQ10 synthesis or utilization

  • Increased demands by tissues as a consequence of disease

  • Mitochondrial diseases

  • Oxidative stress due to aging

  • Side effects of statin treatments--this is SO important. I will discuss this in more detail below.

The following is a list of the main benefits of CoQ10:

  • Treat heart failure by improving heart function.

    • “Studies have suggested that CoQ10 might be able to prevent a heart attack recurrence in people who have already suffered from a heart attack. One study, specifically, showed that patients were less likely to have another heart attack and chest pain if they took CoQ10 within three days of having a heart attack. There is also some research to support the idea that people with congestive heart failure might have low levels of CoQ10, and studies have also shown that supplementing might benefit people with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.” Always consult your physician before making any changes.

  • May improve sperm and egg quality and reduce the decline in egg numbers.

    • Women’s eggs and men’s sperm decline with age and are also susceptible to oxidative stress. Antioxidant properties of CoQ10 may help improve sperm quality and reduce the decline in the number and quality of eggs in women. It is not entirely clear if getting more CoQ10 externally will improve changes for conception, but studies show promising results.

  • Helps in the prevention and treatment of headaches and migraines.

    • By reducing inflammation and increasing mitochondrial function, studies show that CoQ10 may not only treat, but may also prevent headaches and migraines. Although the science of this is preliminary, this may be a major game changer for chronic sufferers.

  • Helps improve exercise performance and recovery time.

    • Oxidative stress is known to affect muscle function and mitochondrial dysfunction can reduce muscle energy. A number of different Japanese studies have found that supplementing CoQ10 decreases muscle fatigue, increases muscle endurance, improves recovery time after exercise, and reduces markers of muscle damage.

  • Plays a role in cancer prevention.

    • CoQ10 plays a critical role in the protection of cell DNA and cell survival, both of which are strongly linked to cancer prevention and recurrence. “Low levels of CoQ10 have been associated with up to a 53.3% higher risk of cancer and indicate a poor prognosis for various types of cancer.”

  • May decrease cognitive deterioration.

    • The brain contains a high fatty acid content and is very susceptible to oxidative damage because of this. This in turn can lead to dysfunction of the mitochondria and death of brain cells. Alzheimer and Parkinson patients benefit from taking CoQ10.

  • May help increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar levels.

    • Links between abnormal mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance have been found. CoQ10 might help prevent diabetes by stimulating the breakdown of fats and reducing the accumulation of fat cells that could lead to obesity or type 2 diabetes. CoQ10 can help increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar levels.

  • Improves side effects from statin drugs.

    • “One in every four Americans over 45 is on a statin, and every single one of these individuals needs to be taking CoQ10 to replenish that which is depleted by the drug. One area of intense research is CoQ10’s effect on statin-induced myalgia (pain or weakness of the muscles). CoQ10 is a critical component of cellular respiration and production of ATP. When you consider that your heart is the most energy-demanding organ in your body, you can surmise how potentially devastating it can be to deplete your body's main source of cellular energy! So while one of statins' claims to fame is to ward off heart disease, you're actually increasing your risk when you deplete your body of CoQ10.”

No need to fear because there is a solution for everything! There are certain foods you can consume, however, this would have to be in very high amounts to receive the daily requirement necessary of CoQ10. This does not seem feasible to reach in our daily diet.  

  • Oily fish: Fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel

  • Organ meats: Liver and kidney meats

  • Vegetables: Veggies like spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower

  • Legumes: like peanuts and soybeans are the best non-animal sources of the substance

I, and so many others, believe that supplementation is our best option when it comes to CoQ10. Studies show no concern of over supplementing CoQ10, but always consult with your health care practitioner first.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take CoQ10. Some sources state that there is potential for interactions between certain prescription drugs like blood pressure medication, blood thinning medications, chemotherapy medications, and beta-blockers. Other sources say there are no interactions.

CoQ10 is fat-soluble and has a slow and limited absorption. It is best consumed with foods preferably those with higher healthy fat content. Additionally, our body does not store CoQ10 so continued use is recommended. It is well tolerated by humans and has low toxicity.

CoQ10 comes in two different forms — ubiquinol and ubiquinone. Ubiquinol accounts for 90% of the CoQ10 in the blood and is the most absorbable form. It is recommended to choose from supplements containing the ubiquinol form. Make sure to look for brands that do not contain gluten, dairy, soy, or artificial colors or sweeteners. Also look for vegan and non-GMO labeling.

Please always consult with your health care practitioner for proper dosing. Although studies show that high doses of up to 1200 mg per day have no major side effects, the standard daily dose ranges from 100 mg to 300 mg. It should be taken with meals and not all together. Ideally, you want to split the dose up to 2 to 3 times per day.    

  • Initial (just starting out)=200-300 mg/day for 2 to 3 weeks

  • Maintenance=100 mg/day

  • If you are on statins=MUST take at least 100-200 mg/day

  • Active or high stress lifestyle=200-300 mg/day

Other dosing guidelines, as presented by Dr. Stephen Sinatra (a board certified cardiologist, and a prominent expert in the field of natural cardiology) include:

  • Typical athlete=100-300 mg/day

  • World class athletes=300-600 mg/day

  • Hypertension or arrhythmia=200 mg/day

  • Heart transplant or severe CHF=300-600 mg/day

  • Mitral valve prolapse=100-200 mg in combination with 400 mg of magnesium per day

If you are interested in taking CoQ10, read through this article entirely, consulted with your medical provider about dosing and possible interactions, and found a supplement brand that you trust, feel free to get started. Make sure to log any symptoms or improvements in energy levels. Happy supplementing!