With nearly 40 years of medical research showing its importance in managing a wide range of serious illnesses, it's not surprising that CoQ-10 has at times been described as "The Miracle Vitamin" and "The New Fountain of Youth." Now a new form of CoQ-10 called ubiquinol makes the benefits of CoQ-10 even more readily available to the body.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10) is a vitamin-like nutrient that is present in virtually every cell of the body and is an essential component of each cell's ability to produce energy. It is also a powerful antioxidant – a chemical that "mops up" potentially harmful substances.
In order to understand how CoQ-10 works, it is first necessary to understand the mitochondria. Imagine that each cell in your body is a car. Mitochondria are the engines – or energy producers – in each cell that make your "car" run. It is the job of the mitochondria to supply this energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is where CoQ-10 comes in. To continue the car analogy, CoQ-10 is the oil that enables the engine to work.
CoQ-10 is the catalyst that makes it possible for the mitochondria to produce ATP, the molecule upon which all cellular functions in the body depend.
Why Ubiquinol Works Better
The CoQ-10 found in most supplements is called ubiquinone. In order to produce cellular energy, the body must convert the ubiquinone to ubiquinol. It is the ubiquinol that carries electrons through the mitochondria and produces energy.
Young healthy people can easily convert CoQ-10 to ubiquinol. But as we age or when we have a chronic illnesses, our ability to convert CoQ-10 to ubiquinol diminishes. This decreased ability becomes apparent around the age of 40, although some scientists suggest that it may begin in the early to mid-20s.
Ubiquinol's superior effectiveness on the degenerative consequences of aging was demonstrated in a 2006 study published in Experimental Gerontology. Age-accelerated mice were divided into three groups. The first group was fed a standard diet with no supplementation. The second group received a standard diet plus the ubiquinone form of CoQ-10. The third group ate a standard diet plus the ubiquinol form of CoQ-10.
After a year, the first group suffered severe, degenerative changes related to aging. The second group, those receiving the ubiquinone, showed noticeable, but less harsh changes. The third group, who received the ubiquinol, remained alert and energetic, exhibiting the characteristics of young, healthy mice.
Overall, the ubiquinol group aged 51% slower than the group receiving no CoQ-10 and 40% slower than the ubiquinone group.(1)
Another peer-reviewed study compared how well humans absorbed ubiquinone and ubiquinol. The results showed that it takes 8 times as much ubiquinone to equal the blood plasma concentrations of ubiquinol. More specifically, 150 mg. of ubiquinol was equal to 1200 mg. of standard CoQ-10.(2)
Additionally, in an unpublished study with aged rats, blood concentrations were sustained longer with ubiquinol. After eight hours, the concentration of ubiquinol CoQ-10 was 3.75 times greater than standard CoQ10.(3)
Obviously, as these studies indicate, it is better to give the body CoQ-10 in the form it can most readily use – ubiquinol. But until recently, ubiquinol has been difficult to stabilize. It is also easily oxidized when exposed to air. Now a novel new patented process has made it possible to produce a stable form of ubiquinol that is protected from oxidation – Ubiquinol CoQ-10.
The Implications of CoQ-10 Deficiency
Because CoQ10 is so essential to the proper functioning of every cell in the body, it's not surprising that researchers have found a deficiency of CoQ-10 may be linked to a number of diverse diseases. A few of the illnesses in which low levels of CoQ-10 may be implicated include:
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)
Small amounts of CoQ-10 can be found in foods, primarily meat and fish. The highest amounts are found in organ meats (heart, liver, kidneys) as well as beef, soy oil, sardines, mackerel and peanuts. CoQ-10 is also synthesized in bodily tissues. In healthy individuals, the combination of dietary intake and biosynthesis work to maintain normal CoQ-10 levels.
Why Do So Many People Seem to Be Deficient in CoQ-10?
No one knows for sure. There are likely multiple causes. Perhaps the emphasis in recent years on eating less red meat as well as generally poor eating habits have contributed to reducing our dietary intake of CoQ-10. And a number of other factors, such as environmental toxins, chronic diseases and some prescription medications may contribute to the impairment of the body's ability to synthesize CoQ-10.
For example, research has shown that the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as "statins" (Lipitor, Zocor, etc.) not only lower cholesterol, but also inhibit the biosynthesis of CoQ-10 by as much as 40%.(4) Anyone taking medication to lower cholesterol should seriously consider also taking CoQ-10 supplements.
Other types of medications thought to deplete the body of CoQ10 include beta-blockers, diuretics, tricyclic antidepressants, and diabetes medications such as metformin, tolazamide and glyburide.
CoQ-10 and the Heart
Due to their high energy requirements, the heart and liver contain the most mitochondria per cell and consequently need a very high concentration of CoQ-10 in order to function properly. Because of this, much of CoQ-10 research has concentrated on heart disease. Researcher Peter H. Langsjoen, MD, FACC, reviewed numerous studies and scientific papers related to the management of heart disease with CoQ-10 and found their conclusions to be remarkably consistent: "That treatment with CoQ-10 significantly improved heart muscle function while producing no adverse effects or drug interactions."(5)
Particularly interesting have been the studies showing a strong correlation between very low levels of CoQ-10 and congestive heart failure. The severity of the heart failure also correlated with the severity of the CoQ-10 deficiency.(6) In general, the sooner patients were given CoQ-10 after onset of congestive heart failure, the more dramatic their improvement.
Cardiomyopathy (inflammation/weakening of the heart muscle) is another form of heart disease shown to benefit from CoQ-10 supplementation. In a six-year clinical study, 85 percent of cardiomyopathy patients supplemented with CoQ-10 in addition to their conventional treatments improved by one or two NYHA classes (New York Heart Association's functional classification for the four stages of heart failure).(7)
CoQ-10 also appears to be beneficial in the management of hypertension (high blood pressure). In one study of 109 patients, 51 percent were able to stop taking between one and three antihypertensive medications an average of 4.4 months after starting CoQ-10 supplementation.(8)
The Fibromyalgia – CoQ-10 Connection
A group of Spanish researchers have led the way in studying the relationship between mitochondria dysfunction and CoQ-10 levels in fibromyalgia. Their first study found that the amount of CoQ-10 found in the cells of the fibromyalgia group was 40% less than in the healthy controls.(9)
Later, they conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the effects of 40 days of CoQ-10 supplementation (300?mg/day) on 20 FM patients. The patients experienced significant reductions in pain, fatigue, morning tiredness and number of tender points.(10) Several additional FM case studies reported by these researchers also resulted in notable symptom improvement after supplementing with CoQ-10.
Similar findings were reported in 2013 by Japanese researchers studying juvenile fibromyalgia patients. The 10 JFM patients tested had significantly decreased levels of CoQ-10. Supplementation with 100 mg/day of ubiquinol CoQ-10 for 12 weeks resulted in an increase in their CoQ-10 levels and a reduction in fatigue.(11)
The Importance of CoQ10 for ME/CFS Patients
When plasma CoQ-10 was analyzed in 58 ME/CFS patients and 22 normal controls, researchers found that CoQ-10 levels were significantly lower in the ME/CFS patients than in the normal controls.(12) This finding has far greater implications than the obvious lack of energy experienced by people with ME/CFS. Because CoQ-10 is essential to every cell in the body, a severe CoQ-10 deficiency can cause mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn has a serious negative impact on multiple organs and body systems and can ultimately result in heart failure.
In fact, that is exactly what happens, according to Dr. Sarah Myhill, MD, a UK-based ME/CFS researcher and clinician. In her recent paper, "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Mitochondrial Dysfunction," she makes her case that ME/CFS is actually a symptom of mitochondrial failure.(13) Dr. Myhill recommends that ME/CFS patients have their CoQ-10 levels checked and begin taking CoQ-10 supplements if they are low. She also notes that CoQ-10 will work best in conjunction with acetyl L-carnitine, magnesium, D-ribose and Vitamin B3 (niacinamide).(14)
CoQ-10's Role in Other Illnesses
Because a deficiency of CoQ-10 can potentially affect every cell in the body, more and more research is being done to determine how much of a role it may play in other illnesses. Animal and/or preliminary human studies have been conducted to uncover how CoQ-10 may work in managing a number of diseases including: breast cancer, melanoma, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's, and migraines.(15-19) All have had promising results indicating that CoQ-10 may be helpful in supporting the prevention or treatment of those diseases.
Many Lyme disease experts include CoQ10 in their treatment protocols because it can protect the brain and nervous system, improve cellular function and boost energy. WARNING: Do not use while taking the anti-Babesia drug atovaquone (Mepron, Malarone) because CoQ10 interferes with the action of the medication.
How to Take Ubiquinol CoQ-10
The recommended dosage of Ubiquinol CoQ-10 is one to two 50 mg. softgels per day. Check with your physician before taking more than 100 mg a day.
While standard CoQ-10 needed to be taken with a fatty meal, Ubiquinol CoQ-10 bonds with water, making it easier to absorb and eliminating the need to take it with fatty foods.
(Note: Healthy individuals under the age of 25 can easily convert standard CoQ-10 to ubiquinol, but if you are over 25 or have a chronic illness, ubiquinol is the recommended form of CoQ-10.)
Ubiquinol CoQ-10 is vastly superior to standard CoQ-10. It provides the body with the type of CoQ-10 that is more readily available to fuel the mitochondria and produce energy because it doesn't have to expend any energy converting the CoQ-10 to its usable form.
* Karen Lee Richards is Lead Expert specializing in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, for HealthCentral's ChronicPainConnection (www.chronicpainconnection.com). Karen is co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and was Executive Editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine for four years.
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Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.