Coenzyme Q10 Keeps Our Bodies Running Smoothly
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a popular dietary supplement. It's been studied as a preventative or treatment for many health problems. But CoQ10 is already being made in our bodies every day, and is present in just about every cell. So what is CoQ10, and what does it actually do? Who should consider using supplements? Let's spend some time looking at the theory, research, and practical uses of coenzyme Q10.
First, what is Coenzyme Q10?
CoQ10 is a coenzyme, a substance that helps enzymes do their jobs. Enzymes are proteins in the body that speed up chemical reactions. They aid digestion, muscle and nerve activity, and much more. Coenzymes make it possible for enzymes to do their jobs. CoQ10 is just one of many different coenzymes in our bodies. It turns out that Coenzyme Q is a family of different coenzymes which are present in almost all animals and bacteria. As a matter of fact, coenzyme Q is so widely present in living things that it has another name – “ubiquinone”. Of all the different coenzymes in the ubiquinone family, CoQ10 is the most common one in humans.
What does CoQ10 do?
CoQ10 plays an important part in generating energy for nearly everything the body does. It also acts as an antioxidant, limiting the damage free radicals can do to cells and genetic material. Overall, CoQ10 has a large responsibility for keeping us healthy in a variety of ways. It seems to have a role in immunity, heart health, muscle strength, ability to fight cancer, and pain perception. It may also be important in regulating processes that lead to migraines, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation, aging, and more. So it makes sense that many researchers are looking at using CoQ10 supplements to prevent and treat a wide variety of health problems.
But here’s the thing. Our bodies already make a lot of CoQ10. And we do get some in a balanced diet. So in general, most of us already have an adequate supply. CoQ10 levels can be measured in human blood and tissues, too, but it tends to be done in limited circumstances. There's just not a lot of reliable evidence that acting on results improves health. Functional medicine, a form of alternative medical care, may currently use CoQ10 levels in treatment more often than traditional medical care.
Is there a place for CoQ10 supplements?
As I mentioned earlier, there's a lot of research looking at CoQ10 supplements in a wide variety of situations. So far, as with so many dietary supplements, the evidence is conflicting or unconvincing in many areas. But there are a few situations where results are leaning in the positive direction, with research ongoing.
Heart failure -- Some research suggests that CoQ10 may help people with heart failure be somewhat more active and feel better in a variety of ways. They may also avoid some hospitalizations, and even have a lower rate of death.
Diabetic neuropathy --Some research suggests that CoQ10 may reduce pain by half in people with neuropathy from diabetes.
Fibromyalgia -- CoQ10 supplements may reduce pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression in women with fibromyalgia.
Migraine -- Adults with migraine may experience up to a 50% decrease in headache frequency with CoQ10 supplements.
Multiple sclerosis -- It’s possible that the fatigue and depression that may accompany a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be improved with the use of CoQ10.
Heart attack sufferers --CoQ10 may improve survival and recovery after a heart attack.
People diagnosed with syndromes of CoQ10 deficiency can also benefit from supplementation.
An interesting theory is that CoQ10 can prevent the muscular side effects that sometimes accompany statin use. Statins are those very popular drugs for high cholesterol. They’re good at preventing cardiovascular complications including stroke and heart attack. But they’re known to cause muscle pain and weakness in some people who take them. Some research (not all) suggests that statins decrease the production of CoQ10 in the muscles. There’s ongoing research looking at CoQ10 to prevent the muscle pain and weakness that sometimes results from statin use. So far the results are so conflicting that most experts don’t routinely recommend it.
But what are these products generally marketed for?
What you’ll see on typical CoQ10 labels and advertisements are recommendations for use in ways that haven’t been shown effective. They suggest daily use for support of energy production, heart health, blood pressure, reproductive health, immunity, and brain health. Those are all great theories, but thus far daily CoQ10 hasn’t been shown to be helpful.
As we already discussed, CoQ10 has the potential to improve health in many ways. But most theories are unproven thus far. And daily use to prevent disease is among the unproven theories. Plus, we haven't talked about doses at all. CoQ10 doses used in the research described above are quite variable and wide-ranging. And there's little or no guidance for "effective" doses when it comes to preventive use.
Side effects and drug interactions
CoQ10 is generally safe. The most common side effects of CoQ10 are in the digestive system. Nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea have been reported. Low blood pressure has also been reported, so those taking blood pressure medicine should watch their blood pressure carefully for awhile after starting CoQ10 supplements. Overall, worrisome side effects are uncommon.
The only concerning potential drug interaction is with the blood thinner warfarin (coumadin). Warfarin has many drug interactions, so if you take it, it's best to get in the habit of letting your doctors know whenever you start or stop a medication. And that includes supplements like CoQ10.
So, is CoQ10 right for you?
The theory behind using CoQ10 supplements is compelling. Who doesn't want more energy production, a healthier heart, decreased signs of aging? We all want to be healthy and active. The bottom line here is that, right now, research doesn't convincingly tell us that CoQ10 supplements will help us with all that. On the other hand, it's pretty safe. So you get to decide whether you want to add CoQ10 to your medication list or not. If you feel the possible benefits outweigh the risks, you can afford to purchase a pure and potent product, and you don't mind taking one more med, give it a try. And keep me posted on how you do!
Hopefully the information I’ve provided here will help you decide if you want to try using CoQ10. If your questions are still unanswered, or you'd like to share your experience with CoQ10, please leave a comment below or contact us directly at Better My Meds. As always, we love hearing from you!