CoQ10: Everything You Need To Know About This Powerful Antioxidant

Photo by Studio Firma

There are a few supplements that almost everyone can benefit from (we're looking at you, probiotics), and there are others that are really worth the money if you have a specific condition or ailment that your body needs support to work though. On this list of supplements that really shine is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), or ubiquinone, an antioxidant that your body produces naturally. CoQ10 has been around for a long time (it's an oldie but goody, if you will). If you're considering supplementing with it—or if you're just beginning your research into its uses in benefits—you've come to the right place. Here's what you need to know about it.

The basics: What CoQ10 is and what it does.

As mentioned before, CoQ10 is an antioxidant found naturally in almost every cell of your body. Antioxidants are substances that help break down free radicals, which are molecules produced in the body that can cause damage. Free radicals are natural by-products of some cellular reactions, but things like too much alcohol and smoking can cause free radicals to build up, and this is bad news for your body. According to Dr. Robin Berzin, an integrative medicine physician and founder of Parsley Health, "When there are too many free radicals floating around, these highly reactive entities damage the healthy parts of your body they come in contact with. When free radicals come into contact with DNA, they can damage it, even causing mutations that lead to cancer. Free radicals also play a role in heart disease, stroke, arthritis, alcoholic liver damage, and even the aging process."

The good news is that your body produces some antioxidants (others your have to get from food), which find and neutralize free radicals to turn them into harmless substances, so it has a built-in defense. Other antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C, flavonoids, phenols, ligands, and the master antioxidant glutathione, which has been shown to boost levels of all the other antioxidants floating around in the body. You can also get antioxidants from outside sources. The best sources? Plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and foods like cocoa and green tea. Lucky for us, high-antioxidant foods are normally also high in fiber and good sources of vitamins and minerals, so you're getting a plethora of benefits in one food.

Different uses for CoQ10.

There are a lot of different uses for CoQ10, but one of its major roles in the body is to help convert the food we eat into energy to power our bodies and brain. That being said, the effects of CoQ10 do not end at energy production. In fact, researchers think it may be able to help with conditions like heart disease, immune function, diabetes, cognition, and even migraines because of its antioxidant activity, effect on energy production, and ability to prevent blood clots. Here are a few of the exciting areas of research when it comes to this antioxidant:

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CoQ10 and energy production.

Energy conversion in the body is one of those things we rarely really think about, but it's crucial to our overall health. We can eat all the amazing, nutritious foods we want, but if our bodies can't take those nutrients and convert them into usable energy—a process that takes place inside our cells and has everything to do with the mitochondria—we aren't going to get very far. What are mitochondria? At revitalize 2017, Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative medicine physician and mbg health expert, explained that, "The mitochondria are power plants in the cells that turn your food and oxygen into energy in the form of ATP. These mitochondria power the biochemical reactions in your cells. To me, they are the Western equivalent of chi, or energy." Dysfunctions in the mitochondria can majorly affect your health (and may explain why you're tired ALL the time). Dr. Ilene Ruhoy, an integrative neurologist and one of mbg's favorite brain health experts, says that CoQ10 is a mainstay in mitochondrial support. Why? Because "Coenzyme Q10 carries the electrons that are needed to make the complex chain of enzymes work." The take-home message? Energy production and CoQ10 are intricately connected. (If you want to learn about other supplements Dr. Ruhoy recommends for optimizing energy levels, click here!)

CoQ10 and heart disease.

Studies have suggested that CoQ10 might be able to prevent a heart attack recurrence in people who have already suffered from a heart attack. One study, specifically, showed that patients were less likely to have another heart attack and chest pain if they took CoQ10 within three days of having a heart attack. There is also some research to support the idea that people with congestive heart failure might have low levels of CoQ10, and studies have also shown that supplementing might benefit people with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Another study on over 100 patients showed that taking a combo of CoQ10 and other nutrients could be linked to a quicker recovery after bypass and other heart surgeries. In other words: If you have heart disease in your family, are struggling with it currently, and are interested in supplements, talking to your doctor about CoQ10 has some scientific validity behind it.

CoQ10 and hypertension.

According to Dr. Joel Kahn, a cardiologist and professor in our Advanced Functional Nutrition Training, "a group called the Cochrane Database Review looked at studies of CoQ10 for hypertension and found an average 11 mmHg BP drop, which is similar to many prescription medications." Other studies, however, have found that CoQ10 didn't have much of an effect on blood pressure, so there are some mixed results. (And remember, you should always talk to your doctor before starting any supplement regime.)

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CoQ10 and reproductive disorders.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is some evidence that CoQ10 might improve semen quality and sperm count in men struggling with infertility. It's not entirely clear if this will, in reality, improve chances of conception, but the research looks promising.

CoQ10 and statin drugs.

Taking statin drugs may lower a person's levels of CoQ10, and some studies have shown that taking this supplement might improve some of the side effects of statin drugs, mainly muscle weakness that some patients experience.

CoQ10 and brain health.

Some studies have shown that people with cognitive disorders have lower levels of CoQ10 in their blood than people with healthy brain function. Other research has suggested that supplementing might slow deterioration in cognition for people with Alzheimer's disease, but more research is needed on the effects of this antioxidant on cognitive function and brain health.

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CoQ10 and migraines.

The science on this is also only preliminary, but some research points to the thought that CoQ10 can help with migraines.

CoQ10 and gum disease.

According to Dr. Joel Kahn, CoQ10 levels may be low in people with gum disease, and some research has suggested that boosting levels by taking supplements or applying it topically can help speed gum healing.

CoQ10 and other illnesses.

According to the NIH, various research studies have looked at the effects of CoQ10 for ALS, Down syndrome, Parkinson's, diabetes, and even age-related changes in genes, but none of them have been definitive.

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CoQ10 and its safety.

Since CoQ10 is made naturally in your body, it generally has a high safety profile. No studies have uncovered any serious side effects of supplementing with CoQ10, but there are definitely some possible side effects, which include—but are not limited to—insomnia, rashes, nausea, upper abdominal pain, sensitivity to light, dizziness, heartburn, and fatigue and headaches. The NIH also says that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take CoQ10. According to the University of Maryland, CoQ10 has the potential to interact with chemotherapy medications, blood pressure medications, blood-thinning medications, and beta-blockers—making them more or less effective. (Another reason to always talk to your doctor first.) And whenever you take a new supplement, it's a great idea to keep a diary or log of how you feel each day to see if you're experiencing any changes, positive or negative.

Foods high in CoQ10.

Photo: Darren Muir

Before you go out and get a supplement, you should know that there are various foods that are naturally high in CoQ10. Increasing your intake of these foods is a great way to get more CoQ10—and antioxidants in general—in your life. So what foods are highest in this nutrient? Here's a list to get you started:

  • Oily fish: Fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are high in antioxidant CoQ10 and are also high in healthy fats.
  • Organ meats: Liver and kidney meats also have high levels of coenzyme Q10.
  • Vegetables: Veggies like spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower naturally contain high levels of this antioxidant.
  • Legumes like peanuts and soybeans are the best non-animal sources of the substance.

Unlike vitamin D or other nutrients, CoQ10 deficiencies are not that common in the general population. That being said, your body's natural CoQ10 production does decrease as you age, and deficiencies have been related to some specific conditions, so for some people, getting their daily CoQ10 from their body's natural production and foods might not be enough. If you do decide that a supplement is right for you, here's how to find one that you can trust.

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How to choose a CoQ10 supplement.

If you're interested in supplementing with CoQ10, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices in front of you. You are not alone! Choosing a supplement can seem amazingly complex and thrust you far out of your comfort zone because while the supplement industry is regulated to some degree by the FDA, responsibilities like quality control and good sourcing practices fall largely into the hands of the supplement manufacturer. If you're working with an integrative or functional medicine practitioner who has training with supplements and herbs, you might have them recommend a specific brand. But even if you go this route, it's important to know that there are some general guidelines to follow when choosing a supplement:

1. Dosage and form.

Is your supplement in the most bioavailable form for your condition, and is the dosage correct? First, look at the numbers on the label and see if they match the dose agreed upon by you and your health care professional (for CoQ10, typical doses for adults range between 30 and 200 milligrams for specific conditions). CoQ10 will most likely come in the form of coenzyme Q10, but it might also say Ubiquinol or Ubiquinone. Those aren't necessarily bad, but it's important to pay attention and work with a professional to find the right form for you.

2. Storage and expiration date.

Make sure you're storing your supplement correctly: Does it need to be refrigerated or kept out of the sun? These details will change depending on how the supplement was manufactured, so just make sure you read the label and follow the directions so you know you're getting the most bang for your buck. In general, supplements with expiration dates are a good sign; this means the company is taking the time to understand how the nutrient profile of the supplement degrades over time and is guaranteeing that it will maintain its potency until the expiration date.

3. Extra ingredients.

On pretty much every supplement bottle you'll find a section where is says "Extra ingredients." It's really important to read the ingredients on this list because some unsightly characters can find their way into your supplements if you don't know what to look for. A great supplement won't contain chemicals, artificial colors, or sweeteners. (Yes, some supplements will have rice flour or sugar or dyes.) Many supplements have organic, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, or other declarations right on the bottle. If it doesn't explicitly say a supplement is free of a certain ingredient, play it safe and assume it's in there.

4. Third-party certifications.

A third-party certification is when a company has an independent organization monitor the quality control of their product. Generally, if a company does this, they will have an NSF sticker right on the label. These certifications are more expensive, so smaller supplement companies are less likely to have them, which is understandable. Just make sure they are doing what they can to be transparent about the way they monitor quality. Another way to evaluate a specific supplement is to check out the Consumer Lab website. They test different supplements for quality and potency and give them a pass-or-fail score.

5. Company best practices.

Some other good signs when it comes to supplements include total transparency when it comes to how they label, manufacture, and test their products. If you call them on the phone they should be able to answer questions like where they source ingredients from (if it's from a farm, ask where it's located and whether or not it's organic) and what materials they use to make the capsules. In addition, a supplement company that invests their time and money in research—or better yet, has teamed up with a university or hospital—it trying to increase the scientific data supporting their products (also a good sign). Lastly, a supplement company should encourage you to work with a professional because while supplements normally use natural ingredients, they can still interact with medications you're taking or cause allergic reactions.

Still have questions? Here's a more in-depth look at what you should know before you buy a supplement or check out these resources:

How to take CoQ10.

CoQ10 is fat-soluble, so normally you will take it as a capsule with a meal. Experts also recommend that you take it at night to increase its effect. Various sources say that gels are better for absorption, but CoQ10 is also available as a hard-shell capsule, in an oral spray, as a tablet, and it's even sometimes added to various cosmetics because of its high antioxidant content.

And so, if you've read up on CoQ10, talked with your doctor of medical provider about dosing and possible interactions with any medications your taking, and found a supplement that you trust—you've got the green light to try it out. Just don't forget to keep a log of any symptoms or changes you feel. Happy supplementing!

Want to read up on more supplements? Here's what you need to know about collagen and its benefits.

And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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