Coenzyme Q10: What it is and why you need it

Energy, vitality, well-being: we often take these for granted, not realizing that a microscopic substance within our cells is crucial in providing them. 

This substance is Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, a key player in our body’s energy production process and a potent antioxidant. 

This article takes you on a deep dive into the world of CoQ10: what it is, why it matters, and how you can enhance your health by understanding and leveraging its power. 

From exploring its roles within our bodies to discussing dietary sources, supplements, and their impact on various health conditions, we’ll unravel the mystery of this cellular spark plug.

What is coenzyme Q10?

Coenzyme Q10, commonly known as CoQ10, is a vital compound that human bodies naturally produce. It is a substance similar to a vitamin found within every body cell. 

A key role of CoQ10 is to aid in producing energy within cells. It is a necessary element of the energy-generating structures within cells, known as mitochondria.

CoQ10 forms adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that acts as an ‘energy currency’ within the body [1]. ATP is involved in various biological processes and provides the energy that drives many activities in your cells. 

Therefore, the presence of CoQ10 is crucial for maintaining the normal energy-producing capabilities of your cells.

It’s worth noting that the production of CoQ10 in the body decreases as we age. This decline is often associated with certain health conditions, including heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases

Certain medications, especially cholesterol-lowering statins, can also decrease CoQ10 levels in the body.

Also, CoQ10 has antioxidant properties and plays a crucial role in safeguarding cells from oxidative stress and damage.

What does Coenzyme Q10 do?
Photograph: kenishirotie/Envato

What does Coenzyme Q10 do?

Cellular energy production

The primary function of Coenzyme Q10 is its involvement in cellular energy production. Located within the mitochondria, often termed the cell’s ” powerhouse, ” CoQ10 participates in a complex series of biochemical reactions known as the electron transport chain. 

During these reactions, electrons are transferred from one molecule to another, forming a vital energy-storing molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

This molecule is like a rechargeable battery – it can be ‘charged’ with energy during certain reactions and ‘discharged’ when energy is needed for various cellular processes. 

Without CoQ10, the cells wouldn’t be able to produce adequate energy required for their functions, leading to cellular dysfunction and, ultimately, disease.

Antioxidant properties

CoQ10 also serves a vital function as a powerful antioxidant. In simple terms, antioxidants neutralize harmful molecules known as free radicals. These unstable molecules can cause cellular damage if left unchecked – a process known as oxidative stress.

The body naturally produces free radicals due to metabolic processes and exposure to environmental factors like pollution and radiation.

When producing these free radicals exceeds the body’s capacity to neutralize and eliminate them, it can result in oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage and various health issues [2].

CoQ10 neutralizes these free radicals, thereby preventing them from causing oxidative damage to cells. It can also regenerate other antioxidants, like vitamin E, enhancing the body’s overall antioxidant capacity.

Moreover, CoQ10 is unique among antioxidants because it is present in the cells’ lipid (fat) components, cell membranes and within the mitochondria. This enables CoQ10 to protect these crucial areas of the cell from the damaging effects of free radicals.

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Where can I get Coenzyme Q10?

While our bodies naturally produce Coenzyme Q10, we can obtain this valuable compound from various external sources through certain foods and dietary supplements. Here we explore these sources in detail.

Food sources 

Coenzyme Q10 is present in small amounts in various foods. Some of the richest dietary sources of CoQ10 include:

  • Organ meats: Heart, liver, and kidney from animals are particularly rich in CoQ10.
  • Meat: Beef, pork, and chicken contain moderate CoQ10.
  • Fatty fish: Species like trout, herring, mackerel, and sardine are good sources [3].
  • Vegetables: Spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli have smaller amounts of CoQ10.
  • Fruits: Oranges and strawberries provide modest quantities of CoQ10.
  • Legumes: Soybeans, lentils, and peanuts contain some CoQ10.
  • Nuts and seeds: Sesame seeds and pistachios are among the best sources in this category.
  • Oils: Soybean and canola oil have CoQ10.

While these foods provide CoQ10, the amounts are generally not high enough to significantly increase the levels of CoQ10 in the body.

Supplements

Given the relatively small amounts of CoQ10 in food, many people use dietary supplements to increase their intake. CoQ10 supplements are widely available and come in ubiquinone and ubiquinol.

Ubiquinone, also known as conventional CoQ10, is the oxidized form of the coenzyme. When you ingest ubiquinone, your body converts it to the active form, ubiquinol.

While ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 and is considered the active form because it is directly used in the body’s cellular energy production process and as an antioxidant. 

As we age or due to certain health conditions, the body’s ability to convert ubiquinone to ubiquinol may decrease, so taking ubiquinol directly may benefit some people.

While CoQ10 is present in various foods, the concentrations are not typically sufficient to impart considerable health benefits, particularly for those with certain conditions or age-related decline in CoQ10 production. 

In these cases, supplements can be a valuable means to enhance CoQ10 levels in the body.

Benefits of Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, due to its unique role in cellular energy production and its antioxidant properties, can bring numerous potential health benefits [4].

Let’s examine these in more detail.

1. Improves heart health 

Several studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of CoQ10 for heart health. Due to its role in energy production, CoQ10 can help improve heart muscle function. 

This is particularly beneficial for individuals with heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, where the heart struggles to meet the body’s demand for blood and oxygen.

Moreover, CoQ10’s antioxidant properties can protect the heart’s muscle cells from oxidative damage. 

Several research studies have suggested that CoQ10 may help decrease the risk of recurrent heart attacks and reduce the symptoms of angina pectoris, a condition characterized by chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.

2. Enhances brain health

The brain is one of the most metabolically active organs in the body and, therefore, requires a high amount of energy for normal function. CoQ10’s role in energy production is particularly crucial for maintaining brain health.

Additionally, the antioxidant properties of CoQ10 can protect the brain against oxidative stress, a damaging process that plays a significant role in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Some studies have shown that CoQ10 supplementation may slow the progression of these conditions, although more research is needed in this area.

3. Protects skin health 

CoQ10 can also offer benefits for skin health. It’s found naturally in the layers of our skin, where it aids in cell growth and repair and acts as an antioxidant protecting against harmful free radicals.

Aging and exposure to environmental factors like ultraviolet rays from the sun can reduce the levels of CoQ10 in the skin. 

Applying CoQ10 directly to the skin, or taking it as a supplement, can increase its levels, potentially reducing wrinkles and improving the skin’s overall appearance.

4. Boosts physical performance

Because of CoQ10’s central role in energy production, it’s thought that this coenzyme might improve physical performance. 

Some research has suggested that CoQ10 supplementation could help reduce muscle fatigue and enhance endurance, although results have been mixed, and more research is needed to confirm these effects.

Whether through dietary intake or supplementation, CoQ10 offers many benefits that underscore its importance to human health.

Who should take coenzyme q10 supplements? 

The use of Coenzyme Q10 supplements isn’t exclusive to any group of people; however, certain individuals may find them more beneficial due to various factors like age, specific health conditions, or the use of certain medications [5].

Older adults

As we age, the natural production of CoQ10 in our bodies decreases. This could lead to a deficiency that affects the function of various organs. 

Older adults, particularly those over 40, may benefit from CoQ10 supplementation to compensate for the body’s declining production.

Those with medical conditions 

Certain health conditions may also necessitate the use of CoQ10 supplements. Individuals with heart conditions such as heart failure, high blood pressure, and angina may benefit from supplementation. 

Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, where oxidative stress plays a significant role, could be managed with CoQ10 due to its antioxidant properties. 

In some studies, those with migraines and fibromyalgia also showed improvement with CoQ10 supplementation.

People certain medications

Individuals on certain medications might require CoQ10 supplementation as well. Some drugs, especially statins used to lower cholesterol, can deplete the body’s natural levels of CoQ10. 

Supplementing with CoQ10 can restore these levels, potentially reducing some side effects of these medications.

It’s important to note that while CoQ10 supplements are generally considered safe for most people, they can interact with some medicines and may not be suitable for everyone. 

It’s always best to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

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Coenzyme Q10 side effects and risks 

Like any supplement or medication, using Coenzyme Q10 is not without potential side effects and risks. 

While it is generally well-tolerated by most individuals, there are instances where caution is warranted. Let’s examine these in more detail.

Potential side effects 

Coenzyme Q10 is usually considered safe with few side effects when taken as directed. 

However, some individuals may experience mild side effects, especially when supplementing or taking high doses. These can include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: These can include nausea, stomach upset, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
  • Skin rash: Although uncommon, some people may develop a rash after taking CoQ10.
  • Insomnia: Some individuals have reported difficulty sleeping, especially when taking CoQ10 near bedtime.
  • Headache: People have sometimes reported experiencing mild headaches when taking CoQ10.
  • Dizziness: CoQ10 may cause some individuals to experience light-headedness or dizziness.

If these side effects persist or become severe, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare provider.

Drug Interactions 

Coenzyme Q10 can interact with some medications, affecting how these drugs work or increasing the risk of side effects [6]. Some examples include:

  • Blood thinners: CoQ10 may decrease the effectiveness of blood thinning medications, such as warfarin, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots.
  • Blood pressure medications: CoQ10 could lower blood pressure and may enhance the effects of medications designed to lower blood pressure, which could result in blood pressure that is too low.
  • Chemotherapy drugs: There is some concern that the antioxidant effects of CoQ10 may make chemotherapy drugs less effective, although the evidence is mixed.

Always consult a healthcare provider before starting CoQ10, particularly if you take any other medications or have a chronic health condition. 

Ensuring CoQ10 is safe for you and won’t interfere with your treatment plan is important. 

Coenzyme Q10 dosage and administration

While Coenzyme Q10 benefits health, understanding the right dosage and administration is crucial to harness its potential advantages and avoid unintended side effects.

How much Coenzyme Q10 to take?

The right dosage of CoQ10 depends on several factors, including the individual’s age, health status, and the specific condition being addressed. 

However, commonly, doses range from 30 to 200 milligrams per day for general health support.

Higher doses are often recommended for specific conditions, as follows:

  • Heart conditions: For individuals with heart failure and other heart conditions, doses up to 600 milligrams per day have been used in research studies.
  • Migraines: In several studies, a daily dose of 100 to 200 milligrams has been used to prevent migraines.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases: For conditions like Parkinson’s disease, higher doses, up to 1200 milligrams per day, have been used in research.

These are general guidelines and individual needs may vary. Seek professional medical advice before beginning a CoQ10 supplementation regimen.

How should I take CoQ10?
Photograph: Iakobchuk/Envato

How should I take CoQ10?

CoQ10 is fat-soluble, which is better absorbed with a meal containing fats. Therefore, it is recommended to take CoQ10 supplements with a meal for optimal absorption.

It’s also worth noting that CoQ10 can come in different forms. Most supplements contain either ubiquinone or ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is the active form of the coenzyme and is usually better absorbed, but it can also be more expensive.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that supplements should not replace a balanced diet but complement healthy dietary habits and lifestyles.

How to choose and store Coenzyme Q10 supplements? 

Navigating the supplement market can be challenging with numerous brands and product options. Let’s break down some crucial points to consider when choosing a Coenzyme Q10 supplement and how to store it properly.

Factors to consider when choosing the right supplement

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a CoQ10 supplement:

  • Form of CoQ10: As mentioned earlier, CoQ10 supplements come in two forms – ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinol, the active form, is more readily absorbed by the body and may be a better choice, especially for older adults or those with specific health conditions.
  • Quality and purity: Opt for reputable and transparent brands about their sourcing and manufacturing processes. Supplements should be free from unnecessary fillers or additives. Third-party testing can also ensure the product’s purity and potency.
  • Dosage: CoQ10 supplements can range in dosage from 30 to 400 milligrams per serving. Choose a dosage based on your needs and your healthcare provider’s advice.
  • Price: While choosing the cheapest option may be tempting, remember that you often get what you pay for. A more expensive supplement may offer better absorption and effectiveness, providing more value for your money in the long run.

Proper storage 

Once you’ve chosen a high-quality CoQ10 supplement, proper storage is key to maintaining its potency:

  • Temperature: Store your CoQ10 supplements in a cool, dry place. Avoid locations prone to heat and moisture, like the bathroom or kitchen.
  • Light: CoQ10 can degrade with exposure to light. Keep your supplements in a dark place or bottle to protect against light exposure.
  • Air: Limit exposure to air by keeping the supplement bottle tightly sealed when not in use.

Considering these points, you can choose a high-quality CoQ10 supplement that suits your needs and ensure it stays effective for as long as possible.

Closing thoughts

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, holds the key to cellular energy production and overall health, with benefits ranging from heart and brain health to enhanced physical performance. 

Its importance cannot be overstated, especially for certain groups who may require supplementation, like those over 40 or individuals with specific health conditions. 

Yet, it’s crucial to remember that the decision to supplement should always be made with the guidance of a healthcare provider, who can help optimize the dosage based on individual needs. 

Don’t overlook this powerful coenzyme as you journey towards improved health and well-being. Take the first step – consult with your healthcare provider about CoQ10 today and explore the potential benefits it could bring to your life.

FAQs

What is coenzyme Q10 used for?

CoQ10 is an essential nutrient that supports cell energy production and is an antioxidant. It’s often used as a supplement to promote heart health, brain function, and physical performance.

Who should not take CoQ10?

CoQ10 supplements may not be suitable for everyone. If you’re taking blood-thinning medication or undergoing chemotherapy, consult your healthcare provider first. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also exercise caution.

What happens when you take CoQ10 every day?

Taking CoQ10 daily can support cellular energy production, promote heart health, and provide antioxidant benefits, as this coenzyme is essential for these processes. However, results vary among individuals.

When should you stop taking CoQ10?

If you experience ongoing or worsening gastrointestinal issues, rash, or insomnia while taking CoQ10, it’s best to stop. Also, if you have surgery coming up, stop taking it at least two weeks beforehand to avoid any potential blood pressure issues during and after the procedure.

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1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/coenzyme-q10 
[2] https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/coenzyme-q10
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3178961/ 
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531491/ 
[5] https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-coenzyme-q10/art-20362602 
[6] https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/coenzyme-q10

Photograph: FabianMontano/Envato
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