Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), or ubiquinone, is a fat-soluble vitamin-like substance present in every cell of the body, that serves as a coenzyme for several key enzymatic steps to produce energy within a cell. It also is a potent antioxidant – a chemical that “mops up” potentially harmful substances (like unstable oxygen molecules) generated during normal metabolism.
CoQ10 is found in small amounts in a wide variety of foods. It is found naturally in organ meats such as heart, liver and kidney, as well as beef, soy oil, sardines, mackerel, and peanuts.
To put dietary CoQ10 intake into perspective, one pound of sardines, two pounds of beef, or two and one half pounds of peanuts, provide 30 mg of CoQ10.
CoQ10 is also synthesized in bodily tissues, and in healthy individuals, normal levels are maintained both by CoQ10 intake and by the body’s own synthesis of CoQ10.
CoQ10 levels are reported to decrease with age, and to be low in patients dealing with certain chronic health conditions.
A Quick Primer on Cellular Energy
The cell’s energy-producing engines are called the mitochondria. The enzyme that makes the engines work is succinate dehydrogenase-co-Q-10 reductase.
Cells do not use the nutrients in the diet for their immediate supply of energy. Instead, they prepare an energy-rich compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is the fuel used for all the energy-requiring processes within the cell. In turn, the energy in food is extracted to build more ATP for use by the body.
CoQ10 and Energy Production
As a coenzyme, CoQ10 is an important link in the chain of chemical reactions that produces vital cellular energy. Coenzymes are cofactors upon which larger and more complex enzymes absolutely depend for their function. Coenzyme Q10 is the coenzyme for at least three mitochondrial enzymes (complexes I, II and III) as well as enzymes in other parts of the cell, and is believed by a number of researchers to improve mitochondrial function.
Mitochondrial enzymes of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway are essential for the production of the high-energy phosphate, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), upon which all cellular functions depend.
Because of its role in energy production, a deficiency of CoQ10 can aggravate many health problems.
Normal blood and tissue levels of CoQ10 have been well established by numerous investigators around the world. Significantly decreased levels of CoQ10 have been noted in a wide variety of health conditions in both animal and human studies.
CoQ10 deficiency may be caused by:
• Insufficient dietary CoQ10,
• Impairment in CoQ10 biosynthesis,
• Excessive utilization of CoQ10 by the body,
• Or any combination of the three.
CoQ10 and Healthy Heart Function
CoQ10 is known to be highly concentrated in heart muscle cells due to the high energy requirements of this type of cell. In recent years, a great deal of clinical work with CoQ10 has focused on heart health. Significantly, low blood and tissue levels of CoQ10 have been linked to poor heart function.
Serious CoQ10 deficiency may well be a primary etiologic factor in some types of heart muscle dysfunction, while in others it may be a secondary phenomenon. But one thing is clear: healthy heart function depends on adequate cellular levels of Coenzyme Q10.
To read a few recent research studies, click on the links below.
• Mayo Clinic; “Introduction to Coenzyme Q10” by Peter H. Langsjoen, M.D., F.A.C.C.
• The Nutrition Superbook: The Antioxidants, edited by Jane Barilla, M.S., Keats Publishing, Inc. (ISBN 0-87983-671-7).