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Coenzyme Q10


CoQ10: The Antioxidant Energy Enzyme

The human body is a unique composite of trillions of self-regulating individual cells, each responsible for its own production of energy. When all of our cells are functioning properly, we feel great. When some of our cells are not functioning well, disease ensues.

Simon Melov, director of the genomics core at the Buck Institute for Age Research, summarizes this individual cell energy-creation in the following way: "Mitochondria (microscopic structures within each cell) are the power plants of our cells. They convert food into energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which the body uses to live."

Coenzyme Q10 is one type of antioxidant that helps to fuel this process of cell-energy creation. Just like our body needs food to provide the fuel to produce energy in the whole body, cells also need fuel on an individual basis. They convert the vitamins and nutrients in the food we eat into usable form. Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, is a particularly important vital micronutrient in this process. The following article will give an in-depth overview of CoQ10, some of the health benefits of the coenzyme, and some of the ways you can incorporate more of it into your daily diet.

What is CoQ10 and What Does It Do?

CoQ10 is a potent antioxidant and a biologically active quinone found in the membrane of cellular mitochondria, composed of organic non-protein coenzymes responsible for carrying electrons in our cells. Furthermore, CoQ10 works to synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a key source of intracellular energy in the human body. Scientists regard this coenzyme, produced naturally in all body cells, as an important part of the body's functional energy-producing system. It is directly related to the smooth functioning of all of the body’s major systems, including the circulatory, immune, nervous and endocrine systems.

We can think of coenzymes as chemical elements that link to bigger enzymes, and whose presence is necessary for the proper functioning of those bigger enzymes. As an antioxidant, CoQ10 also helps to neutralize free radicals, stabilizing the cell membranes for most optimal functioning. It is the only known lipid which is produced directly within the body that maintains a redox function, in which oxidation numbers in atoms are changed during chemical reactions.

Coenzyme Q10 also has an important role in the mitochondrial electron-transfer for our respiration processes. Its other key function is to protect cells in oxygen deprivation situations, such as with a heart attack. The body makes CoQ10 through a complex 17-step process involving the amino acid tyrosine, trace amounts of minerals, as well as at least eight forms of vitamins. A lack of any one of these components can halt the CoQ10 production.

Health Benefits of CoQ10

As we grow older our body does naturally begin to produce lower levels of the coenzyme. Research findings show that after the age of twenty, most individuals experience a drop-off in CoQ10 levels. By the age of forty, there is an even sharper decline in the coenzyme levels produced. This drop-off stage is a period when we may begin to experience decreased energy levels. Our brains don’t function as sharply as when we were younger, and our hearts beat with less vigor and efficiency. Lower levels of CoQ10 can cause this lack of energy. We may also find a higher propensity towards diseases and the typical processes of aging.

Similarly, studies show that people who have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome may be lacking this essential antioxidant. For this reason, it has been suggested that their cells are less able to do the conversion process of food to energy. Individuals dealing with chronic conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular malfunction, muscular dystrophies, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes, have been reported as having low levels of CoQ10. When there is a lack of oxygen, such as in the case of a heart attack, additional amounts of CoQ10 have been shown to reduce the damage to heart tissue cells and their mitochondria.

Other purported benefits in promising preliminary evidence from laboratory settings include:

  • As a general antioxidant for good health.
  • Aids in cancer prevention and in the treatment of breast cancer; may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.
  • May prevent and help manage various forms of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Helps in the management of congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia.
  • May be useful in treatment for patients with HIV and AIDS.
  • May help to treat fertility problems.
  • Studies show that taking a daily supplement of CoQ10, may be a more effective migraine treatment than allopathic drugs.
  • Studies suggest that it may be useful in treating Huntington's disease and preventing the progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • May prevent the progression of periodontal disease.
  • Can be used as a general support mechanism for increased strength and stamina in athletes.
  • Can be used to treat patients with Coenzyme Q10 deficiency.
  • Can be used to treat age-related macular degeneration
  • May be useful in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as Friedreich's ataxia.

How can we add more CoQ10 to our diet?

CoQ10 is fat-soluble lipid, so it helps to take CoQ10 supplements with a meal containing natural oils. You can increase its absorption process through eating higher amounts of omega 3-rich oily fish, organ meats such as liver, and whole grains. Widely available in supplemental form, a typical recommended dose is 40 to 90 mg daily, taken in smaller doses several times a day.

CoQ10 Can Be Found In:
  • Fresh Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna



  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Lamb
  • Liver
  • Peanuts
  • Pork

Vegetables and Grains:
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Wheat Germ
  • Whole Grains

CoQ10 and Chemotherapy

There is some debate as to whether patients should take this powerful antioxidant while going through chemotherapy. Some experts believe that using CoQ10 before chemotherapy may help to protect patients against the toxic effects of chemotherapy agents. However, others note that it is such a powerful antioxidant that it can actually interfere with chemotherapy’s ability to destroy cancerous cells. While results remain largely inconclusive, if you are going through chemotherapy it is critical to discuss this with your oncologist prior to taking any form of the supplement.

Other possible risks or side effects associated with COq10

Do not take CoQ10 supplements if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. While most individuals do not experience any negative side effects while taking CoQ10, there are some reported mild and transient side effects such as:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rash
  • Dizziness
  • Skin itching
  • Insomnia
  • Increased light sensitivity of the eyes

CoQ10 may also cause lowered blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so care should be taken in individuals with diabetes and hypoglycemia. As with any supplement, always consult with a doctor before taking CoQ10 if you are currently taking any other form of medication or have any questions or concerns.

References and Other Resources:

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  14. Voet, Donald, et al., Fundamentals of Biochemistry, New York: Wiley, 1999.
  15. American Cancer Society, “Coenzyme Q10,” American Cancer Society, last revised 11/01/08,
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