Coenzyme Q10 (also known as Co Q10, or ubiquinone) is a substance found in all our cells. It can be said to act like a vitamin, yet it’s not classed as a vitamin because we can make it in our own bodies. Co Q10 has an important role in energy production in our cells, and also functions as a vital antioxidant.
Read on to find out more about how it works, and why some of us may benefit from taking coenzyme Q10 in supplement form.
Primary functions of Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 has two main functions in our body:
- It plays a vital role in production of energy in our cells. It is concentrated in the mitochondria of our cells (the energy production factories) and is involved in the
‘electron transport chain’ which is the final stage in production of ATP – the body’s energy molecule [1,2]. Because it’s so important for energy, it’s found in particularly high concentrations in the heart muscle – almost three times as much as in any other muscles! 
- It acts as an antioxidant. In its ‘reduced’ form – ubiquinol – it has been found to protect fatty substances in the body such as our cell membranes and LDL cholesterol, but also our DNA against free radical damage. In addition, it can recycle vitamin E, which itself acts as an antioxidant. 
How much coenzyme Q10 do we need?
Because we can make it in our own bodies, coenzyme Q10 is not classified as an essential nutrient and therefore there is no specific amount that we ‘need’ to get through food.
There are only very small amounts of coenzyme Q10 found in food compared to the amounts we can make in our own body. Food sources include:
- Meats – including beef and chicken
- Organ meats
- Oily fish – e.g. mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines
- Nuts and seeds – including peanuts, sesame seeds and pistachio nuts.
Why take coenzyme Q10 in supplement form?
So if we can make it in our own bodies, why take a Co Q10 supplement? Here are some of the primary reasons it may be helpful.
- Levels of Co Q10 may decline as we age. It’s been found that the amounts of coenzyme Q10 in most organs of the body peak at around 20 years of age and then decline continuously after this.  This suggests that reductions in our energy as we age could be partly related to lower Co Q10 levels in our cells.
- Co Q10 production in the body may be reduced with certain health conditions or chronic diseases. Examples include heart disease , diabetes , Parkinson’s disease , liver disease  and chronic fatigue syndrome .
- Certain medications can reduce levels of Co Q10 in our body. Statin medications, which are used to lower cholesterol, are best known for this effect. Statins reduce the activity of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase that’s involved in producing both cholesterol and Co Q10. Some researchers believe that this is the primary reason for ‘statin-induced myopathy’ – muscular weakness that commonly occurs as a side-effect of taking statins. For this reason, people who take statins are often recommended by health practitioners to take coenzyme Q10 supplements alongside their medication.
- Co Q10 may be particularly protective for our heart. Studies have indicated that Co Q10 supplementation may help protect against further cardiac events (heart attack, stroke etc.) in those who have previously had a heart attack.
Forms and bioavailability / What to look for when buying a supplement
There are two primary forms of coenzyme Q10 found in supplements:
- This is the more common and usually cheaper form of coenzyme Q10 supplementation – it’s the form that you get in most products that are just labelled ‘Co Q10’ or ‘Coenzyme Q10’. In chemical terms, ubiquinone is the ‘oxidised’ form of Co Q10, which means it doesn’t have any spare electrons to donate, but it can accept electrons. Before the body can use it for some of its functions – especially as an antioxidant – it has to gain electrons and be converted to its ‘reduced’ form ubiquinol, as below.
- Ubiquinol is the ‘reduced’ form of Co Q10. This means it has electrons to donate in chemical reactions, and it can work directly as an antioxidant in the body. Ubiquinol has also been found to be better absorbed into the body, and hence may be more bioavailable than the ubiquinone form . For both these reasons, it is sometimes considered a better form to take as a supplement.
In addition to these two forms of Co Q10, there are differences in how Co Q10 supplements are produced and presented to us that may affect how well they are absorbed.
- Oil base versus dry capsule/tablet. Coenzyme Q10 is a fat-soluble nutrient. This means it is absorbed with fats into the body. Therefore, choosing a Co Q10 supplement in an oil-based gel capsule may improve its absorption. In fact, in a placebo controlled trial carried out on 60 men, taking Co Q10 in an oil matrix was more effective in raising Q10 levels in the blood compared to the same amount in dry powder capsules .
- Co Q10 in a base of medium-chain triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fat that is absorbed more easily and quickly than other fats , therefore the Co Q10 in this base may also be better absorbed.
- Emulsified or micellised Co Q10. Because fat-soluble substances are generally more difficult to absorb than water-soluble substances, some brands aim to improve the absorption of their Co Q10 using emulsification or micellisation. Emulsification breaks the Co Q10 into small droplets so it can be more easily acted on by digestive enzymes – it basically does the same job as the bile from our liver. Micellisation goes a step further: it breaks down the Co Q10 into microscopically small droplets inside micelles, which are small enough to directly pass through the wall of the digestive tract.
So in summary, what should you look for when choosing a Co Q10 supplement?
Ubiquinol is often said to be better than ubiquinone and may be a good choice if you can afford it; however, both forms can be effective. In terms of the format of the Co Q10 supplement, an oil or gel capsule is likely to be better than a standard dry-form capsule or tablet. Co Q10 in a base of medium-chain triglycerides or that has been emulsified may be better than a standard oil capsule, with micellised supplements being potentially one of the best choices all-round.
Dosages: Lifestyle Labs’ recommendations
Adults: Dosages of Co Q10 supplements tend to vary between 30 mg and 200 mg. 30 to 60 mg is generally considered a low dose – it may be a good choice for those who are looking for a maintenance or ‘everyday’ dose. For those who are looking for more intensive support, or who are taking statin medication, 100 to 200 mg per day is considered a more effective dose. Significantly higher doses than this have been used in clinical trials without adverse effects – however, it is best to check with a healthcare practitioner if you want to take a higher dose on a long-term basis.
Children: Coenzyme Q10 is not generally recommended as a supplement for children unless on the advice of a healthcare practitioner.
If you are taking any medications or have any medical condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before taking coenzyme Q10. In particular, coenzyme Q10 should not be taken by those on anti-coagulant (blood-thinning) medication unless advised by a healthcare practitioner.
For most people, Co Q10 is a very safe supplement to take on a long-term basis.
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