Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ or ubiquinone, is a normal and essential component of the membranes of mitochondria—the intracellular organelles that manufacture ATP, the basic energy molecule of the cell. CoQ has been shown to improve many conditions associated with aging and to dramatically extend the lifespan of female mice. Though virtually unheard of in the United States, it has been used as a pharmaceutical in Japan for many years; it is now undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. Here is the inside story of CoQ and information about how you might he able to enjoy its benefits.
Coenzyme Q10 plays a critical role in the production of energy in nearly every cell of your body. This is because CoQ is an integral part of mitochondria, which are responsible for generating about 95% of the energy extracted from the food you eat.
The chemical energy stored in food molecules is used by mitochondria to pump protons across the mitochondrial membrane; ATP is made using the stored energy of the resulting proton gradient.
CoQ plays a critical role in the pumping of most protons across the mitochondrial membrane. Without CoQ, you would not have enough energy to stay alive. Because of the indispensability of CoQ in aerobic energy production, CoQ is found in most living systems and for this reason was named ubiquinone (for “ubiquitous quinone”) by its discoverer, R.A. Morton.
Decline With Advancing Age
In view of the importance of CoQ, it is significant that its levels go down as we age. In one study, E. Bliznakov found that CoQ declines by 80% in the course of normal aging. Deficiencies of this magnitude in man would be lethal, but deficiencies approaching this have been observed in aged humans and are associated with grave heart disease.
Preliminary unpublished observations by Bliznakov indicate that there is a decline of CoQ levels with aging in normal humans. As we will see, these and several after observations suggest that the decline of CoQ with time might be intimately linked to fundamental aging mechanisms and play a causative role in aging itself.
“Coenzyme Q10 is a significant, immunologic stimulant…and has been shown to be a potent antioxidant.”
Clinical Experience With CoQ
CoQ has been on sale as a cardiac medicine in Japan since April 1974 and approximately 6 million Japanese take it every year. It appears to be entirely nontoxic at the doses normally used (10 mg. three times a day) and no adverse effects have been seen at doses as high as 100 mg/day.
It is now sold in 252 different formulations by 83 different pharmaceutical companies in Japan. Japanese manufacturers of CoQ use either fermentation or direct synthesis to make more than 5 metric tons of CoQ each year and have dozens of international patents on their methods of manufacture.
The number of papers published on the clinical effects of CoQ is overwhelming and individual studies will not generally be cited here. Three international symposia on CoQ have been convened to review this work and the reader is referred to the proceedings of these symposia (see references).
Cardiovascular Benefits of CoQ
Congestive heart failure. The heart has very high energy demands and very high concentrations of CoQ. Consequently, much attention has been focused on CoQ as a cardiac medicine. It appears to be effective in treating congestive heart failure by increasing the intrinsic strength of the heart muscle.
CoQ is effective in treating and preventing cardiac arrhythmias, thereby reducing the risk of a heart attack. This effect and its effect on the strength of the heart muscle are particularly important in view of the weakening, ATP-depleting, and arrhythmia-producing effects of vasopressin (see Anti-Aging News, Vol. 3, pg. 28, 1983). Perhaps CoQ could block these negative effects of vasopressin produced by age-related rises in vasopressin levels in the blood.
CoQ is effective in lowering blood pressure. In addition to its directly damaging effects, high blood pressure is a major risk factor for the development to atherosclerosis.
CoQ reduces ischemic hypoxic injury, which occurs when there is a stroke of myocardial infarct (heart attack), or which might be present chronically in patients with poor circulation or lung diseases such as emphysema.
Anti-Aging Effects of CoQ
CoQ increases energy (exercise tolerance) in sedentary people. This is not surprising in view of the role of CoQ in energy production.
CoQ is a significant immunologic stimulant and has been shown to partially correct age-related declines in immune function in mice.
CoQ is dramatically effective in treating periodontal disease, a common malady of aging.
CoQ has been shown to be a potent antioxidant capable of inhibiting lipid perozidation in mitochondrial membranes. (Its chemical structure is similar to that of vitamin E). This may be important in view of recent observations of large losses of mitochondrial DNA in mouse brain and other organs. The electron transport/proton transport process in mitochondria generates free radicals which may produce these declines in DNA. An antioxidant such as CoQ might prevent this.
CoQ dramatically extends the lifespan of female mice. The mean survival time was extended by 56%. A follow-up study by The Lifespan Company has recently confirmed this observation in female mice of a different strain, although no effect on the mean lifespan of male mice was seen (probably because only 5 male mice were examined).
To the extent that deficiencies of CoQ occur as a normal component of the aging process, correcting these deficiencies by taking supplements of CoQ can be considered an anti-aging therapy.
In addition to these direct anti-aging effects, CoQ has been shown to be very effective in preventing toxicity from large numbers of drugs normally used to treat older people for cancer, hypertension, and other diseases of aging. As a “side effect” of CoQ administration, higher doses of drugs such as adriamycin can be used, with potent effects against the disease under treatment.
Coenzymes, Vitamins, and Nutrients
Despite the effectiveness and safety of CoQ, the FDA currently prevents its sale as a drug in this country, But, as Dr, Karl Folkers has pointed out, it makes much more biological sense to regard CoQ as a vitamin rather than as a drug.
Most vitamins are converted in the body to coenzymes, which are substances necessary for the proper functioning of many enzymes. CoQ is also a coenzyme, being necessary for the functioning of both mitochondrial and extramitochondrial enzymes.
The major difference between CoQ and other vitamins is that CoQ can be synthesized in the body, whereas the traditional vitamins must be obtained in the diet. However, in cases in which CoQ deficiencies exist, such as in the course of normal aging, it is obvious that the body no longer synthesizes adequate amounts of CoQ, so that dietary supplementation becomes necessary and the distinction between CoQ and vitamins becomes even less apparent. Furthermore, unlike drugs but exactly like vitamins, CoQ is found in almost all foods and could properly be thought of as a nutrient rather than as a drug.
Another reason to consider CoQ to be a vitamin or nutrient rather than as a drug is that it does not act at all like a typical drug. Drugs act on specific molecules or receptors in the body and therefore have specific effects. CoQ acts to increase the supply of energy for cellular processes in general and thereby simply improves overall health, yielding many of its benefits as an indirect consequence of this nonspecific improvement in health.
In addition, drugs act rapidly, in a matter of minutes or hours or days, whereas the effects of CoQ may not become apparent until between three weeks and three months of treatment have passed. This is because CoQ must stimulate the synthesis of additional mitochondrial enzymes in order to be utilized for energy production.
Despite these arguments, the FDA defines a drug as (among other things) anything that is claimed to have a therapeutic effect or is used to prevent disease. Therefore, an orange could in principle be banned for sale as a nonprescription item if it were to be sold with a label claiming benefits such as the prevention of scurvy. As long as no claims are made and the substance is used to maintain health rather than to prevent disease, however, it can often be sold as a nutrient if it is present in normal foods.
“The effects of CoQ may not become apparent until three weeks to three months of treatment have passed.”
Coenzyme Q10 References
Folkers, K., Yamamura, Y., Editors, Biomedical & Clinical Aspects of Coenzyme Q, Elsevier Publishing, Co., New York, 1977.
Yamamura, Y., Folkers, K., Ito. Y., Editors, Biomedical & Clinical Aspects of Coenzyme, Volume 2, Elsevier, New York, 1980.
Folkers, K., Yamamura. Y. Editors, Biomedical & Clinical Aspects of Coenzyme Q, Volume 3, Elsevier, New York, 1981.
Nakamura. R., Littrau, G.P., Folkers, K., & Wilkinson, “Deficiency of Coenzyme in Ginglva of Patients with Periodontal Disease,” Internat. J. Vit. Nutr. Res. 43:84,1973.
Nakamura. R., Littrau, G.P., Folkers, K., & Wilkinson, E.G., “Study of CoQ10 Enzyme in Gingiva of Patients with Periodontal Disease and Evidence for a Deficiency of Coenzyme a 1O”, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 71:1456,1974.
Wilkinson, E.G., Arnold, R.N., Folkers, K., Hansen. I. and Kishi, H., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine. II. Adjunctive Treatment with Coenzyme a in Periodontal Therapy”, Res. Communications in Chem. Path. and Pharm., 12:111-124, 1975.
Bliznakov, E.G. “Immunological Senescence in Mice and Its Reversal by Coenzyme Q10,” Mechanism, Aging And Development, 7:189, 1978.
Kitazawa, M., Susiyama, S., Ozawa. T., Miyazaki, Y. Kotake, K., “Mechanism of Chlorpromazine-Induced Arrhythmia and Mitochondrial Dysfunction” J. Electrocardial, 14.219-24, 1981.
Folkers, K., Drzewoski, J., Richardson, P.C., Ellis, J., Shizukulshi, S., Baker, L., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine, XVI, Reduction of ‘Hypertension in Patient by Therapy with Coenzyme n 10”, Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Pharmacol., 31:129-40 1981.
Osura, F., Morii, H., Ohno, M., Ueno, T., Kitabatatake, S., Hamada, N. “Serum Coenzyme Levels in Thyroid Disorders.” Horm. Metab. Res. 12:537-40, 1980.
Folkers, K., Watanabe, T. “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine XIV, Studies on Apparent Deficiency of Coenzyme Q10 in Patients with Cardiovascular and Related Diseases.”, J. Med. 9 67 79, 1978.
Cortes, E.P., Gupta, M., Chou, C., Amin, V.C., Folkers, K., “Andriamycin Cardiotoxicity; Early Detection by Systolic Time Interval and Possible Prevention by Coenzyme Q10” Cancer Treat. Rep. 6:887-91.1978.
Folkers. K., Porter, T.H., Bertino, J.R. Moroson, B., “Inhibition of Two Human Tumor Cell Lines by Antimetabolites of Coenzyme Q10”. Res. Commun. Chem. Path. Phamacol., 3:485-90, 1978.
Kishi, T. Kishi, H. Watanabe, T., Folkers, K., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine. XI. Studies on Coenzyme Q and Diabetes Mellitus”, J. Med., 3-4:307-21, 1976.
Hansen, II., Iwamoto, Y., Kishi, T., Folkers, K., Thompson, L.E., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine IX. Gingival and Leucocytic Deficiency of Coenzyme 10 in Patients with Periodontal Disease.”, Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Pharmacol., 4( 729-38, 1976.16.
Yamasami, T., Shibata, N., Folkers, K., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine. VIII. Administration of Coenzyme Q10 to Patients with Essential Hypertension.” Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Parmacol. 4( 72 1-7. 1976.
Wilkinson, E.G., Arnold R.M. Folkers, K. “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine. VI. Adjunctive Treatment of Periodontal Disease with Coenzyme Q10. Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Pharmacol., 4:715-9,1976.
Ishiyama, T., Morita, Y., Toyama, S. Yamasami, T., Tsukamoto, N., “A Clinical Study of the Effect of Coenzyme Q on Congestive Heart Failure”, Japn. Heart J. 17t32-42, 1976.
Yamasami, T., Shibata, N., Folkers, K., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine Studies on Coenzyme Q10 and Essential Hypertension”, Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Pharmacol. 2:273-88, 1975.
Inamoto, Y., Nakamura, R., Folkers, K., Morrison, R.I. “Study of Periodontal Disease and Coenzyme.”, Res. Commun. Chem. Pathol. Pharmacol., z:265-71,1975.
Folkers, K. Watanabe, T., “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine Survey of the Adjunct Use of Coenzyme with Oral Therapy in Treating Periodontal Disease.”, J. Med., 5.333-48, 1977.
Bliznakiov, E.G., “lmmunostimulation or Immunodepression?” Bio-Medicine, 2(73-6, 1977.
Bliznakiov, E.G., “Coenzyme Q Deficiency Aged Mice”, Journal Medicine, vol. 9, 4,337-346, 1978.
Bliznakov, E.G., “Effect of Stimulation of the Host Defense System by Coenzyme Q10 on Dibenzpyrene-induced Tumors and Infection with Friend Leukemia Virus in Mice.”, Pro. Nat. Acad. Sci. 70r390-394, ’73.
Bliznakov, E.G., From Sharks to Coenzyme Q-10. In Reticuloenthothelial System in Health and Disease: Functions and Characteristics. Edited by Richard, Shim, Escobar, M.R., and Friedman, H., Plenum Press, New York, 1976.
Bliznakov, E.G., Casey, A., Kishi. T., Kishi, H., and Folkers, K., “Coenzyme Q Deficiency in Mice Following Infection with Friend Leukemia Virus,” J. Vir. Nutr. Res., 45:388-35 (1975).
Bliznakov, E.G. Wan, Y.P., Chung, D., Folkers, K., “Partial Reactivation of ‘Impaired Immune Competence in Aged Mice by Synthetic Thymus Factors.” Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun., 80:631-636, 1978.
Folkers, K., Littaru, G.P., Nakamura, R., and Scholler, J., “Survey and New Clinical Studies on Coenzyme Q in Human Muscular Dystrophy.” Int. J. Vit. Nutr. Res., 42 139-163, 1972.
Shigeta, Y., Izumi, K., Abe, H., “Effect of Coenzyme Treatment on Blood Sugar and Ketone Bodies of Diabetics.”, J. Vitaminol, 12:293, 1966.
Yamaura, Y., Ishiyami, Yamayami, T. et .al. “Clinical Use of Coenzyme Q for Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases.”, Jap. Circ. J., 31:168. 1967.
Excerpted from Anti-Aging News, published by the Life Extension Foundation, 2835 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, FL 33020. Volume 3, No. 7, July 1983, Gregory M. Fahy Ph.D.