Coenzyme Q10: Cellular Spark Plug!
For all you car lovers out there, here’s a car analogy for how CoQ10 works in your body:
Coenzyme Q10 acts a lot like the spark plugs in your car engine. Spark plugs convert gasoline to energy inside the pistons of the engine. The energy drives the pistons, which drive the car. Coenzyme Q10 in your cells works the same way. If one of your spark plugs isn’t working right, your car engine stops running well. If all the spark plugs aren’t working, your car sputters to a stop, even if the gas tank is full. Something very similar happens in your body if you run low on CoQ10—you can’t produce enough energy to keep your body running.
To say the least, CoQ10 is produced by the human body, helps provide energy to cells, and is necessary for the basic functions of cells.
The Q and the 10 refer to the groups of chemicals that make up the coenzyme. It is found throughout the body, but is present in higher concentrations in organs with higher energy requirements, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
All in a Name: Different forms of Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 exists as two forms: Ubiquinone and Ubiquinol.
Ubiquinone is the oxidized form of CoQ10 and is the more common form of commercially available CoQ10. If you've ever bought one of the cheaper CoQ10 supplements, it has most likely been in the oxidized form. If the label doesn't specifically mention which form of CoQ10 the product contains, it's probably ubiquinone.
Ubiquinol is the fully reduced and antioxidant form of CoQ10. This is the form used to provide energy to our cells, and the form I recommend you look for when purchasing in supplement form.
Studies now show the body’s ability to reduce the ubiquinone form of CoQ10 to the powerful antioxidant ubiquinol declines with age and is markedly compromised in certain chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus.
Are there safety concerns?
Coenzyme Q10 is likely safe for most adults when taken by mouth. Check with your health care provider to find out if coenzyme Q10 can be safely used along with other drugs. Certain drugs, such as those used to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels, may decrease the effects of coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 may change the way the body uses warfarin (a drug that prevents the blood from clotting) and insulin.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s online reference for supplements, coenzyme Q10 is possibly effective for the following:
--Congestive heart failure.
There is no evidence taking coenzyme Q10 alone can help heart failure. But there is some evidence (though controversial) it might be helpful when taken in combination with other heart failure medications and treatments.
Decreasing the risk of additional heart problems in people who have had a recent heart attack (myocardial infarction, MI). When started within 72 hours of MI and taken for one year, coenzyme Q10 appears to significantly lower the risk of heart-related events including non-fatal MI.
Huntington's disease is a rare genetic neurological disorder. Ubiquinol, an altered form of coenzyme Q10, has been granted “Orphan Drug Status” by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This gives the maker of Ubiquinol some financial incentives to study its effectiveness for Huntington’s, a condition that is so rare (affecting less than 200,000 individuals) that pharmaceutical companies might not otherwise invest in developing a drug for it. However, taking coenzyme Q10 by mouth in doses of 600 mg per day or less doesn’t seem to be effective for slowing the progression of Huntington’s disease.
--Preventing blood vessel complications caused by heart bypass surgery.
There is some evidence taking coenzyme Q-10 by mouth for a week before surgery might help to reduce blood vessel damage. But not all research agrees with this finding.
--High blood pressure.
Taking coenzyme Q10 by itself or along with other medications for treating high blood pressure seems to help lower blood pressure even more.
--Preventing migraine headache.
Taking coenzyme Q10 by mouth seems to help prevent migraine headaches. Studies show it can decrease the frequency of headaches by about 30% and the number of days with headache-related nausea by about 45% in adults. Taking coenzyme Q10 also appears to reduce migraine frequency in children who have low levels of coenzyme Q10. It can take up to 3 months for significant benefit. Unfortunately, coenzyme Q10 doesn’t seem to be effective in treating migraines, once they have developed.
Some research shows taking supplements coenzyme Q10 might slow decline in people with early Parkinson’s disease. But taking a coenzyme Q10 supplement in people with mid-stage Parkinson’s disease does not seem to improve symptoms.
Improving the immune system of people with HIV/AIDS.
Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disorder involving muscle wasting. Taking coenzyme Q10 by mouth seems to improve physical performance in some patients with muscular dystrophy.
Bottom Line: There are numerous promising uses for coenzyme Q10 and as always, please consult with your health care provider before trying a new supplement.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. Pressman AH. (1997). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vitamins and Minerals: Coenzyme Q10. New York, NY: Macmillan, Inc.
2. Medline Plus. Coenzyme Q10: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/938.html