CoQ10: A Simple Guide to the Benefits

15 min read

CoQ10 is one of the hottest supplements on the market, but with its unique name, a lot of people are confused about what it is and what it does.

The Health Benefits of CoQ10

CoQ10 is a fat-soluble substance that converts food into energy, so it is most effective when taken with food. Coenzyme Q10 is known by many names, including CoQ10, Vitamin Q10, ubiquinone, and Q10. The word “coenzyme” identifies CoQ10 as a compound that helps other chemicals in the body do their jobs properly. In this instance, CoQ10 serves as an antioxidant substance that protects cells against harmful free radicals that damage crucial cell components, including DNA. CoQ10 is involved in many functions, including cell respiration, cell growth, cell maintenance, energy production, and metabolism.

The body produces CoQ10 naturally – it is present in most tissues. The highest concentrations are found in the heart, pancreas, kidneys and liver, with the lowest concentration found in the lungs. However, the enzyme tends to decline with age, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, this decline can begin as early as 20.

In 1957, Coenzyme Q10 was discovered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Enzyme Institute by Fredrick L. Crane and his colleagues. It was researcher and award-winning chemist Peter Mitchell who revolutionized the science behind CoQ10. What he revealed through his studies was that CoQ10 plays an integral role in carrying energy to cells. His work changed the course of chemistry behind CoQ10, resulting in his winning the 1978 Nobel Prize. Because of Mitchell, CoQ10 is recognized today for its integral role in cell health.

In the early 1980s, CoQ10 was sold in Japan as a prescription drug for heart disease. Today, it is one of the most popular supplements on the market and an affordable way to naturally promote well-being.

What are the health benefits of taking CoQ10?

CoQ10 exists in two forms in the body, ubiquinone and ubiquinol. The majority of CoQ10 in the body takes the form of ubiquinol, which is more active and bioavailable. This enhance bioavailability means that it is more easily absorbed into the body. It is stored in the mitochondria of cells and helps the cells produce the energy we need every day. While age-related CoQ10 decline is common, deficiency can be caused by disease, genetic defects, stress, statin consumption, and nutritional deficiencies.

Many benefits of CoQ10 have been identified through research. The Mayo Clinic lists the following benefits based on new research: Heart health, including congestive heart failure and blood pressure Parkinson's disease for nervous system benefits Statin-induced myopathy, including easing muscle weakness associated with statin consumption Migraines, by possibly reducing frequency Physical performance, by improving energy production

These are only some of the benefits of CoQ10. Because this compound is part of every cell of the body, it plays an integral role at the very heart of our health and well-being.

CoQ10 for brain health

CoQ10 is of great interest for health researchers regarding its capabilities in brain health, particularly for Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive Vitality, a group that is part of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, explored CoQ10’s potential impact on Alzheimer’s disease. While Cognitive Vitality rated CoQ10 low on the scale for potential use for Alzheimer’s disease, they ranked it high for safety.

While CoQ10 may not be optimal for Alzheimer’s disease, it still plays an important role in brain health. Many researchers note that because CoQ10 is essential to mitochondria, it plays a large role in energy levels. This includes feelings of being drained, which can potentially lead to brain fog and the inability to focus.

CoQ10 for heart health

CoQ10 is one of the top-selling supplements for heart health. That’s because the research for CoQ10 and heart benefits is profound and promising. One study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology Heart Failure, found that in a randomized study of 420 patients, taking CoQ10 reduced death in patients with severe heart failure by half. Research has also demonstrated a strong relationship between heart attack recovery and CoQ10 supplements. In one clinical trial, patients who consumed CoQ10 after a heart attack had a lower rate of returning cardiac events, a notable 25% compared to 45% in the control group.

In a comparative analysis published by researchers in the Journal of Hypertension, CoQ10 was discovered to potentially lower systolic blood pressure. It is important to note that with CoQ10 it may take up to twelve weeks to see a change in blood pressure. As always when considering a new supplement, you should discuss with your doctor before taking CoQ10 for blood pressure.

Another heart benefit of CoQ10 is that it potentially reduces heart damage caused by chemotherapy, according to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. A number of clinical studies suggest this is the case while using adriamycin, athracycline, and other chemotherapy drugs; however, this too should be discussed with a physician first.

The potential to lower cholesterol has also been observed through research. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai states that people with high cholesterol usually have lower levels of CoQ10. Despite a lack of clinical studies, there is evidence that in conjunction with statin supplements, CoQ10 can help bring cholesterol levels back to a normal baseline. It may also relieve the muscle pain associated with statins.

CoQ10 for lung health

In the body, the lungs contain the lowest amount of CoQ10 and they are susceptible to oxidative damage because of the large amounts of oxygen they come into contact with. Every cell in the body relies on the lungs working properly. Most of us do not think about how important the lungs are in our everyday lives, but we need the lungs to carry oxygen and other gases through the bloodstream.

Maintaining healthy lung capacity is necessary to exercise and be active, and perform normal tasks, too. Unfortunately, as we age, our lung capacity decreases. And without antioxidant protection, the lungs are at risk for diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Some people are also born with lung diseases.

COPD gets worse over time, and it becomes increasingly difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. The result is coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common forms of COPD.

The National Emphysema Foundation notes that experts recommend CoQ10 for lung health supplementation, as it has been known to improve cell activity and ease inflammation in people with COPD. A 2005 study confirmed similar results, finding that supplementation with CoQ10 reduced inflammation and the need to take steroids in patients with asthma.

CoQ10 for fertility

To work optimally, the body needs to maintain certain levels of CoQ10, making it an integral nutrient to the reproductive system, particularly egg and sperm vitality.

To achieve a healthy pregnancy and baby, the egg and the sperm need to be healthy. If they aren’t, the pregnancy may result in a miscarriage. And if the egg and sperm are in poorer condition, conception may not happen, even if advanced reproduction techniques, like IVF, are performed. The early stages of life depend on cell division, and because CoQ10 is such an important part of the cell, researchers believe that supplementation may help support this action by restoring mitochondria energy.

The Shady Grove Fertility Clinic reports that in one study, men supplementing with CoQ10 experienced improved sperm motility. In another study, men who used CoQ10 daily had an increase in sperm count and morphology (the shape of sperm). Similar improvements were found in egg quality, particularly in women trying to conceive later in their reproductive lives (after 35). It was also suggested that supplementation can help slow the natural decline of female fertility; however, more research is needed in women of advanced maternal age.

CoQ10 for skin health

You may have noticed that many skin care products have been adding CoQ10 to their formulas due to its powerful antioxidant properties. Skin is the largest organ of the body, and on a daily basis it is exposed to harmful agents that damage skin and penetrate its layers. This includes UV rays and oxidative elements from the environment, sweat, dirt, and more.

When these elements hit the skin, they can cause rapid aging, thin skin, and in some cases skin cancer. Damaging skin agents also cause premature aging, wrinkles, freckles, and age spots. Topical CoQ10 has been demonstrated to reduce free radical damage and increase antioxidant capacity, while it also “significantly increased the levels of this quinone on the skin surface” according to a 2015 study. Quinone, if you’re wondering, is used for lightening freckles and age spots on the skin.

A 2006 study also notes that people with certain cancers, including skin cancer, had lower blood CoQ10 levels. This same study concluded that CoQ10 may help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

CoQ10 for headaches

For millions of people, headaches are an extremely common health problem. Almost everyone is prone to having a headache in their lives. A more severe headache comes in the form of a migraine. The World Health Organization reports that while migraines are common and occur in 1 adult in every 7 in the world, they are more common in men, typically driven by hormones, and are rare in the Far East.

A UK non-profit, The Migraine Trust, is devoted to helping people suffering from migraines, and they report CoQ10 as being a promising natural remedy. They report the results of several studies on CoQ10 being beneficial to migraines:

Thirty-two patients with migraines used CoQ10 at a dose of 150 mg per day. End results found that “61.3% of the patients treated had a greater than 50% reduction in number of days with migraine headache.” In the same study, only two people did not show improvement with intensity. The average number of days with a migraine dropped to 2.95 days compared to the start with 7.34 days. The trial showed that CoQ10 likely takes between four and 12 weeks to show migraine reduction. One of the most important discoveries in the study revealed that CoQ10 did not cause adverse events, and that it was well-tolerated by participants. CoQ10 supplementation also helps children with migraines.

These results were published in 2005.

CoQ10 for blood sugar

When cells are damaged by oxidative stress, metabolic diseases often result. In many instances, blood sugar levels are impacted by disease and other health challenges. This includes one of the most common disorders: diabetes. Diabetes is well-known as a chronic inflammatory disease.

A 2015 study concluded that mitochondrial distress contributed to Type II diabetes. They also concluded that restoring adequate levels of CoQ10 in patients with Type II diabetes via supplements could potentially “alleviate oxidative stress, preserve mitochondrial function, and eventually lead to improvement of glycemic control.” The same study also mentions that more research is needed due to several clinical studies finding no improvement with CoQ10 supplements and patients with Type II diabetes.

The potential is there; however, most research agrees that this evidence is still widely inconclusive and needs more examination through clinical trials.

Should I take a CoQ10 supplement?

As a “vitamin-like” substance that is essential for maintaining cell integrity, many people are interested in taking CoQ10. Remember that it is always important to discuss the benefits of supplements with a personal physician who is familiar with your health history.

What are the signs of CoQ10 deficiency?

According to researchers at Oregon State University, a rare genetic disorder caused by gene mutations can cause CoQ10 deficiency. Besides genetic conditions, age also causes deficiency. Most of the CoQ10 we need is actually produced by the body, while the rest is obtained from foods. Some health conditions and medications may also lead to deficiency.

CoQ10 deficiencies are not common, and more likely to be seen in people over the age of 40. Signs and symptoms of deficiencies include exhaustion, feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, mood swings, and depression. These signs are also symptoms of many other health conditions, so it should not be assumed that CoQ10 deficiency is present based on these factors. Deficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test. After deficiency is determined, it is likely a healthcare practitioner will recommend supplementation and dietary changes. In this case, only a physician can make dose recommendations.

What are the benefits of CoQ10 for men?

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States; however, men are more prone to heart disease than women. Because men are also less likely to seek out medical attention, including preventative care, this can become a deadly combination. Men can greatly benefit from CoQ10 because it assists with heart health and cardiovascular wellness.

In addition, there are many reproductive benefits for men. Healthy sperm are integral to the conception of a healthy child, and CoQ10 plays a large role in the shape and condition of sperm. Sperm are judged based on three markers: motility (movement), count (the number present), and morphology (shape). CoQ10 supplements may assist with improving sperm quality.

Very limited research suggests that CoQ10 may also improve physical performance because of its involvement in energy production. This leads to improved drive, stamina, and strength. Further studies are needed, however, to evaluate the validity of these claims.

What are the benefits of CoQ10 for women?

As with men, CoQ10 is a valuable nutrient that supports a woman’s heart and cardiovascular health. This is especially important because women do not have the same signs of heart and cardiovascular disease that men have. In fact, many women do not even know that the signs and symptoms of a potential heart attack are vastly different for females than they are for men. In many ways, heart disease is still thought of as a man's disease, when in fact the mortality statistics are equally alarming for both genders. CoQ10 is a nutritional way for women to naturally support their heart health.

CoQ10 is also very beneficial for female fertility. Research studies on CoQ10 and fertility are limited but show its potential. Most research focuses on supplementation paired with IVF or IUI treatments for infertility. Physicians at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York report that they have improved pregnancy chances for women by supplementing with CoQ10, mostly in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Diminished reserve is typically from premature ovarian aging or trying to achieve pregnancy after the age of 40. Taking care of reproductive health can help to ease some of the pressure to pregnant, especially if it leads to feeling better in your body. It should be noted, however, that while CoQ10 is beneficial for fertility itself, after conception the National Institutes of Health recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women do not take CoQ10.

Skin care is another benefit of CoQ10 for women. Topical CoQ10 delivers antioxidants to the skin to keep complexions looking smoother, clearer, and younger.

What foods contain CoQ10?

By eating a balanced diet, you can maintain healthy levels of CoQ10 in the body. The following foods are rich in CoQ10:

Meats: The highest concentrations of CoQ10 are found in red meats, especially organ meats. This includes the heart, liver and kidneys. It is also found in muscle meats such as chicken, beef, and pork. Chicken liver delivers more than 11 mg of CoQ10 per 100 grams, making it one of the highest food concentrations. Fatty fish and oil fish, such as trout, herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines contain CoQ10. Red mackerel flesh contains more CoQ10 than the white portions. Vegetable oils contain some CoQ10, including soybean, canola, and sesame seed oils. It is necessary to make sure that your vegetable oil was processed in a responsible manner, such as cold-pressed extraction. Oil processing greatly impacts the quality and integrity of the oil and the preservation of nutrients. Nuts and seeds are a good source of CoQ10, but do not contain the high amounts that animal meats do. Sesame seeds and pistachios are good sources of CoQ10, too. Fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of CoQ10 and are not a reliable source. Broccoli, avocados, oranges, cauliflower, and strawberries contain small amounts of CoQ10. To get 100 mg of CoQ10 from oranges, you would need to eat 220 pounds of them!

It is important to note that supplements are not a replacement for nutritious and healthy foods. A quality diet can do wonders to maintain your health and well-being, which requires a big commitment. Supplements should support your already healthy lifestyle and dietary choices. While your body produces CoQ10, getting the rest of it requires making smart dietary choices. Yet if you are an older adult, taking a CoQ10 supplement is a great way to fill in nutritional gaps.

Does CoQ10 have side effects?

It is important to recognize that everyone will react to supplements and nutrients differently. The Mayo Clinic highlights the following as potential mild side effects of CoQ10:

Upper abdominal pain Loss of appetite Nausea Diarrhea Insomnia Skin rash Fatigue and dizziness Light sensitivity Irritability and headaches

The Mayo Clinic also warns that CoQ10 may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulants, such as warfarin. This could lead to an increased risk of blood clots. The National Institutes of Health recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women do not take CoQ10.

No serious side effects of taking CoQ10 have ever been reported. Most people tolerate CoQ10 without a problem.

Parting thoughts

CoQ10 is essential for keeping cells energized. It increases and maintains normal energy levels and also supports cardiovascular and heart health. CoQ10 also supports muscles, nerves, the brain, and skin. Natural levels of CoQ10 decrease as we age, impacting the efficiency of cells in doing their jobs. The amount of CoQ10 needed daily is not established; however, this is something that can be discussed with a personal healthcare practitioner if it is of concern.

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