As you have aged, have you found your energy levels declining? Are you needing to rest or even take an afternoon nap more often? While there are many reasons for the decrease in energy as we get older, one of them may be related to a compound called coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Found in every cell in the body, this antioxidant is essential for helping the body make energy.
Although our body makes most of the CoQ10 it needs, levels gradually decline as we age. This contributes to the age-related slowdown, and certain chronic illnesses are also associated with lower CoQ10 levels. Supplementation can help restore levels, increasing energy and providing many other health benefits.
What is CoEnzyme Q10?
Coenzyme Q10-CoQ10-, sometimes called ubiquinol or ubiquinone, was discovered in 1957 by Fredrick Crane and his colleagues.1 It was first identified in the cell’s energy centers called mitochondria.
Crane, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, noticed an unidentified yellow substance in the cells of cows. He was confused upon finding this substance because it appeared to be a type of quinone, which at the time was believed to be found only in plants.
He named it ubiquinone, meaning “ubiquitous quinone,” once he discovered it was found everywhere in the body. The more common name, coenzyme Q10, refers to its chemical structure.
The primary role of CoQ10 is to help the cells convert food into energy. But, many of its reported health benefits come from its antioxidant properties. Although CoQ10 is produced by all cells,2 it is most concentrated in certain organs and tissues, specifically the heart, kidneys, muscle, and liver. These organs need more energy; therefore, it makes sense that it would be more concentrated there.
How much CoQ10 Do I Need?
Since CoQ10 is such an important compound, the body is able to make all the CoQ10 it needs. Thus it is not classified as a vitamin,3 and there is no recommended daily intake for CoQ10 like you might find for other nutrients.
There are no documented deficiencies of CoQ10, except in the case of one rare genetic disorder. But our body’s production of the nutrient does decline as we age. Additionally, people with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart failure or those taking certain medications have lower levels of CoQ10.4
We do get some CoQ10 from food, but only about 25% of our daily needs are met this way. Fatty animal foods, such as organ meats or fish, are good sources. It is a fat-soluble compound, meaning it needs fat to be absorbed.
If you are choosing to supplement with CoQ10, the recommended dosage is between 30 and 100 mg/day. In research studies, no adverse effects have been reported when taking up to 1,200 mg/day, but there may be no additional benefit for such a high dose.
Some people experience gastrointestinal discomfort when supplemented with high doses. This can be minimized by spreading the dosage out over the day.
There are two forms of CoQ10: ubiquinol, the active form made within the cells, and ubiquinone, which needs to be activated inside the cell. Ubiquinol has the highest antioxidant capacity. Most of the research uses ubiquinone because, although ubiquinol is a more potent antioxidant, it tends to get oxidized (deactivated) easily.
CoQ10, Aging, and Disease
The body’s ability to make CoQ10 declines as we age. This leads to lower energy levels and an increased risk of developing illnesses. According to the oxidative stress theory of aging,5 the damage from free radicals, otherwise known as oxidative stress, is the primary underlying cause of aging and disease. Antioxidants like CoQ10 have the power to counteract oxidative stress.
CoQ10 works in two ways to slow aging and lower your risk of disease:
- It neutralizes unstable molecules called free radicals. These molecules are responsible for creating oxidative stress in the body, which damages the tissues and speeds the aging process, eventually leading to chronic illness.
- It improves mitochondrial functioning so that fewer free radicals are produced during the energy-making process.6
Coenzyme Q10 supplementation is like arming your cells with an additional line of defense against free radicals and the damage they cause.
Health Benefits of CoQ10
Here are just a few of the benefits of CoQ10 for a variety of health concerns:
Maintaining stellar cognitive function throughout life is the best way to live a fulfilling life. CoQ10 may help support brain health through its ability to prevent oxidative stress and maintain mitochondrial function.
Mitochondrial decline that occurs with aging has been linked to cognitive dysfunction. CoQ10 depletion is associated with dementia and illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.7 It would make sense that maintaining healthy mitochondria through supplementation could result in improved brain health.
For dementia, animal studies have found that CoQ10 can help up-regulate mitochondrial function in the brain.8 Animal studies have also demonstrated that supplementation reduced the production of amyloid plaques, one of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease.9 There is very limited research on CoQ10 and Alzheimer’s disease in humans, so prevention and treatment recommendations cannot be made at this time.
Research has also shown its impact on the treatment of other conditions impacting the brain. In a 2015 study, 75 patients with Parkinson’s disease were given 100 mg of CoQ10 with creatine or a placebo for 18 months. At the end of the trial, those receiving the CoQ10 scored significantly higher on cognitive assessments.10
CoQ10 seems to be an effective therapy for reducing the frequency of migraines. A 2019 review of four clinical trials found that supplementation decreased migraine frequency by almost two attacks per month. No change was found in the duration or severity of the migraines.11 However, an earlier study in 2018 found that CoQ10 reduced the number and duration of migraines.12 Even though CoQ10 does not seem to have an impact on migraine severity, having a migraine less often is a significant benefit.
CoQ10 has been extensively studied for its ability to help improve the outcomes of several heart-related conditions.
Heart failure is a disease related to an impairment in the heart’s ability to pump blood. A 2017 meta-analysis found that, in combination with standard treatment, CoQ10 helped reduce all-cause mortality for patients with heart failure.13
A 2014 randomized control trial evaluated the impact of CoQ10 as a treatment for heart failure. In this study, 420 patients with moderate to severe heart failure were given either 100 mg of CoQ10 three times a day or a placebo for two years. After the two-year period, members of the CoQ10 group experienced significantly lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality compared to the placebo group. They also had a lower incidence of hospital stays. Researchers concluded that, in addition to standard therapy, CoQ10 appeared to be a safe way to help reduce the serious complications related to heart failure.14
Other studies have found that supplementation with CoQ10 helps increase exercise capacity, ejection fraction, and contractility, improving overall symptoms of heart failure and the ability of the heart to pump blood.15
CoQ10 may also be effective in reducing the risk of heart attacks. One of the underlying triggers of a heart attack is a high amount of oxidative stress. Supplementation with CoQ10 can increase antioxidant activity and glutathione levels, decreasing oxidative stress and lowering risk.16,17
CoQ10 has also been evaluated for its effect on blood pressure through its ability to improve mitochondrial dysfunction. It may also contribute to vasodilation, which means it can open up the blood vessels, decreasing blood pressure.18
Statin-Induced Muscle Pain
When discussing the positive effects of CoQ10 on heart health, the use of statin medications should be discussed. In the United States, at least 35 million adults are taking a statin drug to manage their high cholesterol.19 Statins lower CoQ10 by interrupting its natural production.20
One of the common side effects of statin use is muscle pain. It is believed that these muscle aches are related to a depletion of the body’s CoQ10 stores. A 2014 study showed that supplementation of 50 mg of CoQ10 twice per day reduced statin-related muscle pain for 75% of participants.21
If you are experiencing muscle pain while taking a statin, consider speaking to your doctor about supplementation.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Rates of type 2 diabetes continue to increase, hovering around 10% of the U.S. population, and about 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed each year.22 Improving outcomes for people with diabetes by helping control symptoms can help people live a longer, healthier life.
A 2014 study evaluated the effect of CoQ10 supplementation on lipid profiles and blood sugar in 50 patients with diabetes. Subjects were given 150 mg of CoQ10 or a placebo for 12 weeks. Cholesterol levels, fasting glucose, insulin, and hemoglobin A1C were all measured before and after the study period.
Fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C, a three-month average of blood sugars, were both significantly improved after 12 weeks. This study did not find any significant impact on cholesterol levels.23
It is not clear how CoQ10 directly impacts blood sugar. It may be related to its ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation or improve mitochondrial function. Abnormal mitochondrial function has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.24,25
May Have Protective Effects Against Cancer
Although cancer is a disease with many different underlying causes, uncontrolled oxidative stress increases the risk of developing cancer.26 Additionally, people diagnosed with cancer have been shown to have lower levels of CoQ10.27
But the physiologic basis for the connection between CoQ10 and cancer is unclear at this time. Studies have shown that low levels may be correlated with a poor cancer prognosis.28 One study found that supplementation with CoQ10 reduced the risk of cancer recurrence.29
Fertility declines with age due to damage to eggs and sperm caused by oxidative stress. Supplementation with CoQ10 may be found to help slow or even reverse age-related decline in egg and sperm quality, improving fertility.
CoQ10 has been shown to increase sperm motility, quality, and concentration.30 Similar results have been found with CoQ10 and protecting egg quality.31
The skin is prone to oxidative damage due to its continuous interaction with the elements and the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This contributes to premature aging and cellular damage.
CoQ10 can offer antioxidant protection to the skin when applied topically or taken orally.32 It has been found to reverse UV damage and improve the appearance of wrinkles.33
The lungs are highly susceptible to oxidative damage due to pollution and other toxins from our environment. CoQ10 may help mitigate some of this damage, keeping the lungs healthy. Low levels have been correlated with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.34,35
Supplementation has been found to reduce inflammation in patients with asthma, reducing the need for medication.36 It can also improve exercise performance in patients with COPD.37
Finding the Best Coenzyme Q10
With numerous studied benefits, CoQ10 is a versatile and longevity-promoting supplement. Supplementation with this powerful compound is like arming your cells with an additional line of defense against disease-causing free radicals.
CoQ10 can be beneficial for everyone, but it may be particularly important for those struggling with chronic disease. CoQ10 has few reported side effects. However, it should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding due to a lack of research in that population. If you have heart disease, diabetes, or are taking a statin medication or blood thinner, speak to your doctor about the benefits of supplementation with CoQ10.
Although they have many potential benefits for health, most supplements found on the shelf are poorly absorbed. Initially, manufacturers were only able to produce CoQ10 in a crystalline form, which only had about a 1% absorption rate. Many products still consist of crystalline powder, and these should be avoided as they are ineffective.
Technological advances have continued to improve the absorption rates of CoQ10. The creation of oil-based softgels has increased the absorption to 5%, but still not enough to see significant health benefits. Many of these oil-based products still contain crystalline particles.
Research supports the use of CoQ10 as a safe and effective way to manage oxidative stress, increase energy, and possibly even improve longevity.