Nutrition Beyond the Trends: Co-Q10 is a "10" in Wellness
Co-Q10 has been lauded for its antioxidant properties and its role in energy production. Contributing Editor Dr. Mark Anthony previously managed one of the nation's leading Co-Q 10 research labs; here he brings his expertise to bear on an update of this vital nutrient.
By Mark Anthony, PhD, Contributing Editor | 05/04/2005
Coenzyme Q-10, or ubiquinone, is so named because it is ubiquitous in all living systems and it’s in a class of molecules known as quinones. Coincidentally its nickname, CoQ, happens to be indicative of its structure: the molecule resembles the letter Q, comprised of a hexagonal ring with a tail in just about the same position as on the letter. The “10” refers to the length of the tail — 10 five-carbon units derived from a molecule called mevalonate.
CoQ-10 was first discovered in 1957 when Drs. Fred Crane and David Green, who were studying energy production in mitochondria at the University of Wisconsin, extracted the compound from beef heart. Knowing that they had isolated an important substance, they sent their extract to Karl Folkers at the Merck Inc. labs for identification. Dr. Folkers and his group identified its structure and synthesized the compound in 1958. (It should be noted a research group in England working under Dr. Richard Mortan concurrently identified the same substance.)
The discovery of CoQ-10 proved crucial to Peter Michell’s Nobel Prize-winning “chemiosmotic” theory, which detailed the end-stage process by which we use oxygen to convert the food we eat into energy, a process we now call oxidative phosphorylization, through the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This process is carried out in the mitochondria. CoQ-10 is an integral part of the process. Since ATP powers virtually every reaction in the body, the importance of CoQ-10 can be put very simply: No CoQ-10, no life.
In nature, the highest concentration of CoQ-10 is in tissues that need a lot of energy, such as skeletal and cardiac muscle. A deficiency of CoQ-10 could result in problems related to these tissues. In the mid-1960's Dr. Yuichi Yamamura in Japan became the first clinician to use a CoQ in the treatment of patients with congestive heart failure. In 1972, Dr. Gian Paolo Littarru of Italy and Dr. Karl Folkers, then at the University of Texas at Austin, reported a CoQ10 deficiency in patients with heart disease.
Since then, numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of CoQ-10 in benefiting heart patients. Dr Peter Langsjoen, a cardiologist in Tyler, Texas uses CoQ-10 extensively in his practice. He provides a comprehensive history and review of research on CoQ-10 and heart disease to cardiologists to encourage them to do the same, especially for patients using the cholesterol lowering drugs referred to as statins.
Statins work by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, but that means they inhibit CoQ-10 synthesis, which is needed for the strength of the heart muscle. Patients on statin drugs are warned to watch for unusual muscle weakness.
The Antioxidant Factor
About the time researchers were looking into CoQ-10 and heart disease, its antioxidant potential was discovered. The properties that make CoQ-10 effective for energy production make it effective at quenching free radicals, protecting tissues from damage and inhibiting the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus slowing the development of atherosclerosis, another benefit to the heart.
CoQ-10 is a fat-soluble molecule and is widely distributed in foods, but usually in small quantities. The richest sources are organ meats, sardines and peanuts. If you don’t like those foods, don’t worry, you make much more CoQ-10 than you can eat. However, the synthesis of healthy amounts of CoQ-10 requires a variety of nutrients, especially B-vitamins, thus a nutrient-dense, highly varied diet is a necessity.
Exercise helps CoQ-10 status by encouraging the muscles to build more mitochondria. CoQ-10 synthesis diminishes with age, and illness tends to be demanding of its antioxidant properties. CoQ-10 taken in supplemental form, whether as a pill or added to foods, is best when taken with a fat or oil. Its greatest absorption occurs when taken with a meal that has fat.
There is much more to CoQ-10 than can fit in this overview. Each year hundreds of papers are presented devoted to research into the potential benefits of CoQ-10 for a variety of diseases. In the words of Dr. Peter Langsjoen, “We have only scratched the surface of the biomedical and clinical applications of CoQ-10 and the associated fields of bioenergetics and free radical chemistry.”