An enzyme is a protein that acts as a catalyst in chemical reactions in the body, helping to turn simpler molecules into larger and more useful ones. A co-enzyme is a small molecule that enhances the action of an enzyme. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance found in the mitochondria of every cell in the body, where it helps to transform simple molecules from food into energy. (Mitochondria are tiny energy producing organelles in the cell.) CoQ10 levels are reported to decrease with age, and to be low in people with some chronic diseases, such as heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, and AIDS. The use of statin drugs to reduce cholesterol levels has also been found to lower levels of CoQ10, as CoQ10 and cholesterol are made in the liver by a common biosynthetic pathway. These are the rationales for using CoQ10 as an over-the-counter supplement. Here is some of the evidence:
Parkinson’s disease: A study in 2002 from UC San Diego showed that 1200 mg of CoQ10 daily slowed the progression of Parkinson’s in patients with early onset disease. A larger multi-center clinical trial of 600 patients with Parkinson’s is underway, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, to determine if 1,200 or 2,400 mg of CoQ10 will be more helpful in slowing progression of the disease. Although the supplement has not been shown to have serious side effects, these high doses of CoQ10 should be monitored by a doctor.
Heart Disease: In congestive heart failure, the heart has lost its ability to pump enough blood for all the body’s needs. Fluid may collect in the legs and lungs, and the patient feels substantial fatigue. CoQ10 has been used in this condition, along with usual medical therapies. Although many people use this non-toxic therapy, studies to determine if CoQ10 is helpful in heart failure have not been conclusive so far; another trial is underway.
A trial in India in 1999 showed a significant decrease in blood pressure in hypertensive patients treated with CoQ10 along with their other medications, as did a similar trial in 2001 at the VA Medical Center in Boise. An Australian paper published in 2007 looked at 12 clinical trials of CoQ10 in hypertensive patients, and concluded that it had the potential to lower systolic blood pressure by 17 points and diastolic pressure by 10 points, without serious side effects. This is an important finding, which seems to have been ignored by most doctors.
Many people with elevated serum cholesterol and increased risk of heart attack take medications called statins, which lower the liver’s synthesis of cholesterol, and also of CoQ10. Statins can give side effects such as muscle pain, problems with memory and concentration, mood changes et al. UC San Diego has a helpful website on the side effects of statins and the possible help of CoQ10 with the muscle and cognitive problems that statins can bring. https://www.statineffects.com/info/index.htm
Gum Disease: there is some evidence that people with swelling, redness, bleeding and pain in their gums improved with topical (mouth rinse or gel) and oral CoQ10 . If you have gingivitis/periodontal disease, talk to your dentist about this approach, and just give it a try.
Male Infertility: A study from the University of Ancona in Italy found that young men with unexplained infertility had greater sperm motility after taking 200 mg of CoQ10 twice daily for 6 months, and 14% of couples achieved pregnancy. A similar study from Shahid Beheshti University in Iran showed a significant improvement in sperm counts and motility in men receiving 300 mg of CoQ10 daily for a year. Further studies are needed to see if these results will translate into achieving pregnancy.
Cancer, AIDS, etc
There are numerous case reports of patients with breast cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses who benefited from taking CoQ10, often in doses of 300 mg or more daily. These cases have not received adequate study, so I advise my readers to look for the evidence and talk to your doctor for advice.
Supplemental CoQ10: CoQ10 is synthesized by the body and also consumed in food – which is sufficient for healthy people. When indicated for illness, supplemental CoQ10 is best taken in gel form, absorbed with fats in a meal. Doses usually range from 100-300 mg - if you take over 100 mg, use divided doses. Side effects are minimal, and the supplement is considered safe. There is a possible interaction with coumadin (warfarin), so talk to your doctor if you take blood thinners.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH past issues at on this blog