Originally published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza (link), January 26, 2010. Coenzyme Q10 is a natural substance primarily found inside mitochondria, the power plants of all our bodies' cells. Also known as ubiquinone and abbreviated as CoQ, it is one of the chemical steps in the electron transport chain which produces the ATP that fuels everything we do. Without CoQ we would die.
Over the last couple of decades, dietary supplementation with CoQ has become increasingly popular. It is the third-most popular non-herbal supplement, after fish oil and glucosamine. CoQ is a potent anti-oxidant, scavenging free radicals which can oxidize and damage other molecules, most notably cholesterol.
After age 20, our bodies' CoQ levels begin to decline. By age 80, they are usually lower than at birth. In addition, taking statins can lower levels of CoQ by 40 percent, as do many diabetic medications, diuretics and anti-hypertensives. Sun exposure also lowers skin levels of CoQ, contributing to sun damage and photoaging.
For those worried about atherosclerosis, this reduction is concerning because of how CoQ interacts with LDL cholesterol. LDL is the type of cholesterol that forms arterial plaques which can clog our arteries, causing heart attacks and strokes. It appears that LDL goes from “bad” cholesterol to “worse” cholesterol when oxidized by free radicals, and CoQ may stop this oxidation from happening. So less CoQ in our bodies means more LDL oxidation and more atherosclerosis. Supplementing with CoQ may decrease this risk.
A substantial number of cardiologists believe CoQ should be taken routinely by all patients receiving statin therapy. Large trials haven't been completed, but evidence suggests a very positive risk/reward profile for CoQ in this situation. CoQ may also decrease the risk of some of the complications which can occur with statin treatment, including liver injury and muscle pain and breakdown. It may also have a role in decreasing blood pressure, a common coincident problem. In many other countries CoQ is sold as a prescription medication as well as a dietary supplement and given to almost all patients with statins.
Here, CoQ10 is only available as a supplement. This has the advantage of making it readily available to all, but as it is not a prescription medication, drug companies and doctors are less likely to promote its use. This leaves it to patients to inform themselves of the potential benefits of this supplement and consider its use.
Individual responses vary, but for the average person, 300 mg per day will quadruple blood levels of CoQ. Remember, if you put yourself on any medication or supplement, inform your doctor as CoQ may potentially interact with other medical issues and some medications, including blood thinner and insulin.
Still, CoQ is generally safe, readily available, and may offer anti-oxidant benefits to many, particularly those with hypertension, high cholesterol and those on statin therapy.
— Dr. Rebecca Gelber is an Incline Village resident and graduate of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is an adjunct professor with the UNR School of Medicine and practices locally at Tahoe Aesthetic and Integrative Medicine, 775-298-1750, www.tahoemedicalspa.com.