Coenzyme Q10 is an essential bio-nutrient that is made naturally in the human body. It is a necessary co-factor in the process of cellular energy production. It also functions as a lipid-soluble antioxidant protecting our cells against oxidative damage (oxidative damage = damage caused by free radicals that harm cell membranes and cell DNA and proteins and fats in the blood).
Unfortunately, as we pass through our 20s and move into our 30s and 40s and head towards senior citizen status, our cells produce less of this essential substance with increasing age [Kalén]. We know this.
Older active adults who are taking a statin medication? Shouldn’t they go right to the top of the list of people who need a good Coenzyme Q10 supplement?
That is the question that Dr. Richard Deichmann and his colleagues in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Ochsner Clinical School in New Orleans asked themselves. They tested whether daily supplementation with 200 milligrams of Coenzyme Q10 daily for six weeks would improve measures of cellular energy production, muscle function, and well-being in older active adults taking statin medications.
Recently, I read a published review of the research literature about the nutritional and therapeutic supplement Coenzyme Q10. It was very interesting to see what the research has revealed and to see what the authors of the review chose to emphasize [Potgieter].
Coenzyme Q10 supplements confer the following known health benefits:
improve the symptoms and survival of heart failure patients
provide antioxidant protection to patients taking statin medications
help to lower high blood pressure
maintain good heart function in middle-aged and elderly people
provide heart health benefits to people with diabetes
Normal unsupplemented levels of plasma Coenzyme Q10
First off, there is wide variation in the plasma Coenzyme Q10 concentrations of individuals who are not taking Coenzyme Q10 supplements. There are many factors that influence any one individual’s Coenzyme Q10 status:
Spanish researchers at the Pablo de Olavide University in Sevilla hypothesized that the effect of physical activity on plasma Coenzyme Q10 levels and on plasma Coenzyme Q10/cholesterol ratios might vary according to the age of the individuals engaging in the physical activity. Their results show, for the first time, an apparently different effect of exercise on young people and on older people.
Lower levels of plasma Coenzyme Q10 and lower Coenzyme Q10/cholesterol ratios were associated with high levels of physical activity in the young people more so than in older people who were also exercising. That result was surprising.
Moreover, lower levels of plasma Coenzyme Q10 and lower Coenzyme Q10/cholesterol ratios were associated with high levels of physical activity in the younger people more so than with moderate levels of physical activity in younger people. That result was not surprising.
What was most surprising was the data that showed that older people who exercised more often and more intensely had higher levels of Coenzyme Q10 in plasma and higher ratios of Coenzyme Q10 to cholesterol in plasma than did older adults who exercised moderately or who were mostly sedentary. In this respect, the effect of exercise on the older people differed from the effect of exercise on the younger participants [Del Pozo-Cruz 2014].
Coenzyme Q10 and physical activity in young people
In the Spanish study, the young participants had an average age of 20 years plus or minus 2 years. Two possible explanations come to mind for the lower plasma Coenzyme Q10 levels in highly active younger people:
There are two issues concerning the use of statin medications that relate to Coenzyme Q10.
The more serious issue is that several animal and human studies have shown that the administration of statin medications leads to a reduction in the plasma and muscle tissue levels of Coenzyme Q10. There is no doubt that depletion of Coenzyme Q10 is an unintended consequence of taking statin medications. Some human trials have shown the extent of the reduction to be 40 % or greater. Furthermore, ageing seems to play a role in the diminution of Coenzyme Q10 levels caused by the administration of statin medications [Deichmann]. Decreased plasma and heart muscle tissue levels of Coenzyme Q10 are associated with the increasing severity of heart failure [Folkers, Mortensen].
How does Coenzyme Q10 supplementation keep the heart young and healthy? The primary explanation is that Coenzyme Q10 is absolutely vital to the cellular process of producing energy, and the heart muscle needs energy constantly. An energy-starved heart is a failing heart.
A second and also important explanation is that oxidative damage causes the heart muscle cells to age and deteriorate. Coenzyme Q10 has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help to prevent the development of atherosclerosis.
Dr. William V. Judy earned his doctorate degree in physiology and bio-physics in 1971. He has worked as an aerospace scientist in NASA’s manned spacecraft center and has taught in the Indiana University School of Medicine as a Professor of Physiology. Dr. Judy has worked in basic and clinical research for 56 years now; the major focus of his research has been on the absorption, efficacy, and safety of Coenzyme Q10. He was an early colleague of Dr. Karl Folkers, with whom he carried out joint research studies for 21 years. Absorption of Coenzyme Q10 from supplements
Dr. Judy makes the following points about the absorption of Coenzyme Q10:
What is the effect of Coenzyme Q10 supplementation on the functioning of the immune system? We know that randomized controlled trials of Coenzyme Q10 supplementation have shown the beneficial role of Coenzyme Q10 in the prevention and adjuvant treatment of chronic heart failure and ischemic heart disease. We know that Coenzyme Q10 supplementation has been shown to be especially important for patients on statin medications and for middle-aged and elderly healthy individuals whose bodies no longer produce as much Coenzyme Q10 as in earlier years. What about Coenzyme Q10 supplements for patients whose immune system is weak?
Energy starvation in the immune system? Immune system cells starved for energy? There is a very plausible theory that chronic heart failure is a disease caused by the energy starvation of the heart muscle cells. Lacking adequate Coenzyme Q10 – an indispensable component of the human cell respiration and oxidative phosphorylation process – the heart muscle cells produce less ATP than is needed to supply the cells with energy. (A concomitant theory holds that Coenzyme Q10, in its reduced form, also protects the heart muscle cells against oxidative damage.)
Does Coenzyme Q10 supplementation improve exercise capacity? Do we know? In 2016, Professor Julio J. Ochoa and his colleagues at the University of Granada in Spain conducted an exhaustive review of the published literature about the Coenzyme Q10 supplementation and exercise. The researchers did database searches and found 372 journal articles about Coenzyme Q10 and exercise. An amazing number.
Variation in the Coenzyme Q10 and exercise studies
Of course, the results of the studies reported in the 372 journal articles varied quite a bit for a variety of reasons: