CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) is an essential long-chain, both water- and fat-soluble, vitamin-like substance found in every cell of our body. CoQ10 is primarily made right where it is needed most, inside the cell’s powerhouses or energy factories, called mitochondria. It is a versatile molecule because it is a redox molecule, meaning that it can either give up electrons (oxidation) or accept electrons (reduction) in chemical reactions.
As an antioxidant it protects cells from the damaging effects of oxidation, and this makes it one of the most popular anti-aging supplements today. CoQ10 deficiency is believed to be associated with many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia and declining cognition. It is likely to be a factor in male infertility as well.
Coenzyme Q10 is particularly important for optimal function of organs with the highest concentrations of mitochondria, including the heart, brain, liver, pancreas, kidneys, eyes and skin. Individual cells of these organs can contain 1000 or more mitochondria. It’s no wonder that these organs are the most common ones to loose function in humans as they have the highest energy demands and this in turn produces the greatest amount of potentially damaging free radicals. Mitochondrial deficiencies thus often tend to show up as poor function in these organs first.
It is currently accepted that mitochondria are responsible for 80-90% of our cellular energy production, although scientists are just discovering the important role of structured water (EZ water) and the absorption of infrared energy from sunlight as important energy sources. In fact, our bodies may also be using the chlorophyll molecules from the plants we eat to obtain energy from sunlight! Some say, that perhaps mitochondria only accounts for 50% of our energy production, but this is just speculation for now.
The health and function of our mitochondria is the main factor that determines our biological aging at the cellular level. Mitochondria not only produce energy inside the cell in the form of ATP, but they also produce heat and light.
CoQ10 is an essential co-factor in at least 6 vital processes:
- Energy production: CoQ10 is needed to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate) via the electron transport chain of the respiration pathway in the mitochondria of our cells. ATP is the form of energy that our cells store and use.
- Powerful cellular and lipid antioxidant: CoQ10 neutralizes harmful free radicals, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), right where 90% of them are produced — in the mitochondria. CoQ10 inhibits lipid peroxidation of cell membranes and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and protects DNA.
- Coenzyme Q10 recycles the antioxidant vitamins C and E once they have neutralized free radicals, so they can perform their tasks again. It also increases the activity of glutathione, the “master antioxidant.”
- CoQ10 also supports the function of the endothelial cells, which form the lining of all our blood and lymph vessels. Therefore, it potentially lowers blood pressure, and improves the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid, which is important for removal of waste products from tissues and for proper immune system function.
- As a coenzyme, CoQ10 helps other enzymes in the body to function properly.
- CoQ10 helps to maintain optimal pH levels by improving cell membrane function, and since diseases develop more easily where cells have to work harder to maintain proper pH, this could be another reason CoQ10 is associated with reduced cancer risk.
CoQ10 is made by our cells and we get small amounts from food, but people can be deficient for at least 5 reasons:
- Aging: Our natural ability to synthesize CoQ10 and to convert it to its active form peaks around the age of 20 and then declines with age. It is hard to make up for this deficiency with diet, so most people over 40 benefit from taking a daily CoQ10 supplement. By 55 the amount we make falls to about a third.
- Unhealthy diet and lifestyle: Sugar, alcohol, tobacco, lack of exercise, environmental toxins, deficiencies in B vitamins (especially B6), obesity, and lack of sleep can all lead to decreased CoQ10 production along with increased requirements for it.
- Chronic diseases: Cancer, Parkinson’s and mitochondrial diseases, for example, can deplete CoQ10 in our bodies as our tissues demands for CoQ10 are increased.
- Medications: Statins in particular reduce CoQ10 in the body.
- Genetic defect: A rare genetic disorder called “primary coenzyme Q10 deficiency” inhibits the proper synthesis of CoQ10.
Food Sources of CoQ10
Although CoQ10 can be obtained from some foods, it is only present in small doses. It is estimated that the average person’s diet contributes only about 25% of the daily total CoQ10, though this, of course, varies widely between individuals.
The richest dietary sources of CoQ10 are fish, poultry, meats (particularly the hearts, livers and brains of various animals – be careful because these are high in cholesterol and saturated fats). For the best health it is recommended to keep animal products to a minimum, and in fact the richest vegan sources of CoQ10 including olive oil, soyabeans, seeds and nuts (especially peanuts) can often have higher concentrations of CoQ10 than in common meats like chicken.
- Sardines, mackerel, herring, rainbow trout
- Free-range chicken
- Grass-fed beef
- Cage-free eggs
- Olive oil
- Organic, non-GMO soybeans (tofu, tempeh) – fermented tempeh is best, though personally, I avoid soy
- Peanuts (must be fresh and kept stored in a cool, dry place to avoid Aspergillus mold and aflatoxins)
- Beans and lentils
- Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, sweet potato
- Avocado (by far the highest source among fruits), black currents, strawberries, oranges, apples
- Sesame seeds, pistachio nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts
While CoQ10 has been used in the treatment of many conditions, more research is needed to prove its efficacy for some of those listed below. Having said that, CoQ10 is one of the few of the thousands of supplements marketed these days, that has an impressive amount of research backing its benefits. Turmeric/curcumin, is another example of a well-researched, effective supplement.
Although it is considered very safe, well-tolerated by most people, and with very low toxicity, some people can occasionally experience side effects depending on the dosage. Nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn, loss of appetite, insomnia, rashes, headaches, dizziness, light sensitivity, irritability, fatigue and flu-like symptoms have all been reported. It is probably best avoided if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and consult your doctor first if you are on blood-thinning medication such as warfarin.
- Lowers blood pressure (treats hypertension).
- Sustains natural energy levels.
- Can improve heart health and reduce the chances of heart failure.
- Reduces oxidative damage from free radicals.
- May play a role in cancer prevention, improved prognosis and reducing the chance of cancer recurrence, by protecting cells and DNA from oxidative stress and promoting cellular energy production.
- May help brain health and protect from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The brain is very susceptible to oxidative damage due to its high fatty acid content and high demand for oxygen. By reducing oxidative damage, CoQ10 can lower the production of harmful compounds that can affect memory, cognition and physical function.
- Helps to maintain healthy, clear skin, restores collagen and elastin production, and reduces UV damage. Thus CoQ10 may help reduce the risk of skin cancer.
- It can help prevent and treat headaches and migraines by improving mitochondrial function and reducing inflammation.
- It could improve exercise performance by providing more energy and thus power to muscles, and reducing oxidative stress, thereby reducing fatigue.
- Possibly beneficial for reducing gum disease and receding gums.
- Could improve both male and female fertility (protects sperm and eggs from oxidative damage, increases egg production and sperm concentration and activity).
- It can help prevent and treat diabetes by reducing oxidative damage, improving insulin sensitivity, regulating blood sugar levels and stimulating the breakdown and clearing of fats.
- Could protect your lungs from damage and inflammation and thus reduce lung diseases like asthma and COPD.
- Slows down the effects of aging, mainly by reducing oxidative stress and protecting DNA. Studies suggest that long-term COQ10 supplementation could add several years to your lifespan.
- Helps maintain optimum pH levels.
- Treats symptoms of fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis.
Mitochondrial function is central to our good health, longevity, healing and well-being. There are about 200 conditions associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, so a powerful antioxidant that can be delivered at useful concentrations directly into mitochondria to protect them from damage is a significant discovery.
CoQ10 Forms : Ubiquinone vs Ubiquinol
Ubiquinone is the stable, oxidized (electron acceptor) form of CoQ10 and it is by far the most researched form, showing significant health benefits in thousands of rigorous clinical trials. Ubiquinone is the form that plays a vital role in cellular mitochondrial energy production. Incidentally, the name Ubiquinone is derived from the word “ubiquitous”, since it is found in all cells of the body.
Ubiquinol is the very unstable, reduced (electron donor) form of CoQ10. This is the active, super-antioxidant form, which mops up all those harmful free radicals. Between 93-99% of the CoQ10 in your blood and cells is in the Ubiquinol form. In preventing oxidative damage it gets oxidized by free radicals to the Ubiquinone form, which is then in turn re-reduced back to the active Ubiquinol form ready to act again.
There has been a lot of marketing hype spread around Ubiquinol being the superior, most absorbed form, but there has been far less research done on it than on Ubiquinone. Ubiquinol is much more expensive, but it is so unstable that it is easily oxidized back to the Ubiquinone form; if not during manufacture or in the capsule, then for certain in the stomach before it even gets to the small intestine where it gets absorbed. So is Ubiquinone a waste of money?
It is possible that the body’s ability to convert Ubiquinone to Ubiquinol declines with age, so that would suggest greater benefits in taking Ubiquinol. Although some high quality Ubiquinol supplements may maintain CoQ10 in its un-oxidized state, it still has to get through the stomach to the small intestine in that form. The jury is still out on whether Ubiquional is really better than Ubiquinone.
Nearly 100% of the CoQ10 absorbed by the small intestines is in the Ubiquinone form, whether or not you took Ubiquinone or Ubiquinol. Yet, blood testing studies have shown that Ubiquinone supplements generally have poor bioavailability and that Ubiquinol is better absorbed. However, a study from Germany showed significant elevation of blood plasma and platelet levels of CoQ10 after 14 days of supplementation with just 3 mg/kg(body mass)/day of Ubiquinone (Sanomit Q10), and it took 12 weeks after the last dose for CoQ10 levels to drop back down to baseline values.
Most Ubiquinone is then converted into Ubiquinol in the lymph system and about 6-8 hours after ingestion it peaks in the blood. Absorption into the blood via the lymph system is slow due to the large size of the CoQ10 molecules.
About 96% of the Coenzyme Q10 molecules that make it into the blood circulation are in the form of Ubiquinol. This lipophilic (capable of combining with lipids/fats) antioxidant form is useful for cleaning up many of the abundant free radicals in the blood plasma.
Depending on whether CoQ10 is in the blood, lymph or inside the mitochondria of the cells, it is converted to the form that is needed in that particular situation. In the blood and lymph fluid, CoQ10 primarily serves as an antioxidant. Inside the mitochondria, it supports energy metabolism by switching back and forth between the two forms many times per second.
However, the most critical place where Coenzyme Q10 is needed is in the mitochondria and nearly all CoQ10 supplements fail to deliver it there.
Note that, Coenzyme Q10 in its raw material crystalline form cannot be absorbed by the body, so avoid CoQ10 tablets or capsules containing powder. The CoQ10 crystals need to be heated above 50 degrees Celsius to separate the molecules and then be dissolved in a fatty substrate such as a vegetable oil, which is then sealed inside soft gelatin or other capsules.
Supplementing with Ubiquinone/Ubiquinol
If you decide to supplement your diet with one of the standard forms of CoQ10, Ubiquinone or Ubiquinol, here are a few things to consider:
- Choose a quality, certified brand with good reviews, minimal fillers or preservatives and sufficient CoQ10 concentrations (most capsules contain 50-200 milligrams of CoQ10).
- Dosage depends on what condition you want to treat, but typically ranges from 90 – 300 mg per day. Doses up to 500 mg/day seem to be well-tolerated, and some studies for neurological conditions have used up to 1200 mg/day.
- Since CoQ10 is fat soluble, it is best absorbed when taken with a meal containing fat.
- Evidence suggests that it is better utilized by the body when you take it at night, although some people report having more trouble falling asleep when they have it too close to bedtime.
- If you are taking more than 100 mg per day, it is best to split it into divided doses for better absorption.
- Your body does not store CoQ10, so continued daily supplementation is recommended to see its benefits.
MitoQ : Targeted CoQ10 for Mitochondria
MitoQ (10-(6′-ubiquinonyl)decyltriphenylphosphonium bromide) is an idebenone derivative targeted to mitochondria by covalent attachment to a lipophilic triphenylphosphonium cation. Whew!! That probably made little sense unless you’re a biochemist. Idebenone is an organic compound of the quinone family, which is a synthetic analog of coenzyme Q10 and a powerful antioxidant. It is used to treat several neurological disorders and mitochondrial diseases, and it has been trialed for Alzheimer’s, but with limited success. MitoQ seems much more promising.
MitoQ is reputed to be capable of delivering its active ingredient, Coenzyme Q10, up to one thousand times more effectively than any other CoQ10 supplement formula. This is good news, since as an antioxidant CoQ10 has immense benefits (see the CoQ10 Benefits section above), with healing potential for many chronic diseases, especially those of the heart, liver and brain. The problem has always been its poor absorption into the body.
Most Coenzyme Q10 is made right inside the mitochondria where it is needed, which is just as well because it is a sticky, oily molecule that doesn’t penetrate cell membranes very easily. That is why typically CoQ10 supplements have only about 5% bioavailability. Since little of the CoQ10 from the supplements people take were getting into the mitochondria where it is needed, they were seing little benefit.
In the late 1990s, Professor Michael P. Murphy and Professor Robin A.J. Smith of the University of Otago in New Zealand found a way to make CoQ10 cross the cell membranes and penetrate into the mitochondria more easily. They did this by the addition of a phosphonium ion group to the Coenzyme Q10 quinone complex. Mitochondria are negatively charged and the phosphonium ion is positively charged, and as you know, opposites attract. They found that it could still be reduced to the active Ubiquionol antioxidant form inside the cells, but at levels 800-1200 times higher than with standard CoQ10.
There has been plenty of research on the biological effects of MitoQ — a search for MitoQ on the NIH (US National Institutes of Health) PubMed database at the time of writing this (September 2020) shows 326 published research studies going back to 2001. Summaries of a few studies looking at MitoQ can also be found at Science Direct.
MitoQ was finally made available to the public after 10 years of intensive research and clinical trials. Since its development in the late 1990s, MitoQ has been tested for safety in several human clinical trials. It is based on the natural ingredient, CoQ10 and has no more potential side effects than what is listed above for CoQ10.
Studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce oxidative damage in mitochondria. It appears that MitoQ quickly enters the mitochondria, scavenges free radicals, which cause oxidative damage, and maintains or even boosts the energy available in the cells.
MitoQ has shown some promising results in fighting neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University discovered that MitoQ can reverse a Multiple Sclerosis-like disease (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, or EAE) in mice. The treated mice showed significantly reduced nerve inflammation and damage, greater neuronal activity, and improvement in symptoms. There is hope that MitoQ could be used to treat other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and it has even demonstrated some success with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis}.
SKQ : Targeted Plant-Equivalent of CoQ10
PQQ : Promising Mitochondria-generator, Antioxidant and Cancer-fighter
PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone) is not a form of Coenzyme Q10, but it is a powerful mitochondrial booster and antioxidant, and it could be considered like the sister of CoQ10. Taken together, these two supplements could have potent complimentary effects.
Which Supplements Do I Recommend?
All these Ps and Qs might be getting confusing by now, so I will make it simpler by recommending the supplements that I take myself and I have found to be the best currently available. For most vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients it is best to get it from a healthy, balanced, nutrient-dense diet, but CoQ10 is one that is really worth supplementing, especially for people over 40 or those with certain chronic illnesses.
For Ubiquinol I recommend Natural Factors, Ubiquinol, QH Active CoQ10. If you wish to minimize saturated fat intake and maintain a good ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (e.g. for MS sufferers this is a good idea), then Natural Factors Ubiquinol is a good option because it contains omega-3 flaxseed oil instead of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil or sunflower oil. The presence of these oils helps facilitate the absorption of CoQ10 and protect it from oxidation. Otherwise, Life Extension Super Ubiquinol CoQ10 with Enhanced Mitochondrial Support and Jarrow Formulas, Ubiquinol, QH-Absorb are both good quality supplements.
Vegans should be aware that nearly all Ubiquinol supplements use gelatin capsules. This is because the Japanese company Kaneka, which supplies the supplement companies, mostly uses gelatin capsules. Since Ubiquinol is unstable, light sensitive and oxidizes easily, it needs to be kept fresh inside dark, airtight capsules. However, an excellent option for vegans, although a little expensive, is Bluebonnet Nutrition, Ubiquinol, Cellular Active CoQ10, 100 mg or 200mg.
For Ubiquinone, Now Foods CoQ10, 200mg is a good value option. Doctor’s Best, High Absorption CoQ10 with BioPerine, 100 mg, is another one, although I prefer to avoid bioperine (from black pepper), which can have side effects and interact with medications (see The LeafTV | The Dangers of Bioperine Note that both of these products also contain magnesium stearate in case you prefer to avoid that.
However, the CoQ10 (Ubiquione) product that has reputedly the highest bioavailability uses the Hydro-Q-Sorb gamma-cyclodextrin delivery system. Research has shown that it has up to 8x better absorption than regular Ubiquionone, and can raise blood plasma levels up to 30x compared to other CoQ10 products. H2Q 8 x Absorption CoQ10 100mg vege caps, use this system. They are vegan-friendly, non-GMO and free of artificial additives.
I can also recommend is Quality of Life Labs, CoQ10-SR, which has a 24-hour sustained release and is claimed to be 3x more absorbable than regular Ubiquinone powder. It is vegan-friendly and free of artificial ingredients or magnesium stearate. It uses beta-cyclodextrin instead of the gamma-cyclodextrin used in Hydro-Q-Sorb. Cyclodextrins are safe compounds, produced from starch by enzymatic conversion, commonly used in drug-delivery, food and agriculture.