CoQ10: A Supplement Whose Time May Have Come

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CoQ10, which stands for coenzyme Q10 (also called ubiquinone) might be something that you’ve never heard of. Then again, if you take a statin medicine for your cholesterol, you might just be taking this as a supplement. This week, we’ll take a closer look at this supplement that sometimes is hidden in the shadows but that has the potential for greatness.

What Is It, Anyway?
CoQ10 is a substance that is made in our bodies and is essential for good health. More specifically, you’ll find CoQ10 in a part of cell called the mitochondria, which, as I learned in biology, is the powerhouse of the cell. Without getting too heavy into biochemistry, CoQ10 is needed to make something called ATP which cells use for energy and which helps fuel a number of functions in the body, such as muscle contraction. For you history buffs, CoQ10 was “discovered” in beef heart muscle back in 1957 in Wisconsin. That same year, a professor in England isolated the same substance from rat liver.

CoQ10 is somewhat like a vitamin because it’s essential for health and is found in some foods. It’s actually made from an amino acid called tyrosine and requires several vitamins and minerals for its synthesis. In the 1970’s, it was found that a deficiency of CoQ10 was linked to heart disease. Production of CoQ10 in large quantities began that same decade to run clinical trials, many of which were conducted in the 1980’s.

What Does It Do?
History aside, CoQ10 plays an important role both in energy generation in the body and as an antioxidant. If you recall, antioxidants help to mop up free radicals, harmful substances that can damage cell membranes and cell DNA. It’s thought that damage from free radicals can lead to a whole host of various problems, including heart disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. Here are some ways in which CoQ10 helps promote health and fight disease:

  • Heart disease: CoQ10 may help decrease heart disease by boosting energy production within heart muscle cells, preventing blood clots from forming, and acting as an antioxidant. Research has shown that people who had a heart attack and received CoQ10 supplements after the fact were less likely to have another heart attack and less likely to die from heart disease than those who didn’t receive CoQ10.
  • Congestive heart failure: With congestive heart failure (CHF), the heart is weakened and can’t pump blood efficiently. Blood can accumulate in various parts of the body, such as the feet and legs. CoQ10 may help reduce fluid buildup and improve breathing, although more research is needed to show whether CoQ10 is really beneficial for CHF.
  • High cholesterol: CoQ10 levels tend to be lower in people with high cholesterol. And many people who take statins for cholesterol-lowering take CoQ10 as a supplement, as there’s some indication that statins deplete CoQ10 levels in the body. Some studies show that CoQ10 can reduce muscle pain associated with statins.
  • High blood pressure: CoQ10 may help lower both systolic and diastolic (the top and bottom numbers) blood pressure, although it’s not yet touted as a “treatment” for this condition. Beta-blockers may also deplete CoQ10 levels.
  • Diabetes: CoQ10 may help with blood glucose control. There’s some thought that it may increase the risk for hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

CoQ10 is thought to possibly help many other conditions, too, such as breast cancer, HIV, gum disease, and macular degeneration.

Where Is It Found?
CoQ10 is found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), vegetable oils, meat, and poultry. It’s also available as a supplement in soft gel, tablet, or spray form. Recommended doses vary depending on the condition, and range from 100 milligrams (mg) to up to 3,000 mg per day, given in divided doses. At this time, it’s not recommended for use in children. Side effects are minimal (nausea, diarrhea), but CoQ10 may interact with blood thinners and thyroid medication. As always, check with your health-care provider before taking this or any supplement.

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