Often, people who have only weak evidence or weak reason and logic to support their arguments resort to the use of logical fallacies. Far too often, for example, we see fallacies used in commercial advertisements and in political campaigns. Some of the most recognizable fallacies used (unfairly) in arguments and in discussions are the appeal to emotion, the appeal to tradition, the ad hominem attack, the straw man, the red herring, the slippery slope, and so on. We have to be on guard against the use of these fallacies.
How the appeal to authority works
Imagine my surprise when I saw the appeal to authority fallacy being used in an interview promoting the use of the ubiquinol form of Coenzyme Q10. The appeal to authority fallacy works like this:
- Person A is claimed to be an authority
- Person A then says that Product B is a good product
- Therefore, we should buy Product B, taking the word of the authority on faith
Why is the ubiquinol form being marketed so aggressively?
Recently, I was checking the Web to see if I could find factual information about the attributes of the ubiquinol (QH2) form of Coenzyme Q10 supplements vis-à-vis the ubiquinone (Q10) form of the supplement. Even though I know that we have good solid evidence for the beneficial effects of the ubiquinone Q10 form of the supplement, I continue to look for an explanation (besides the profit motive) for the introduction of ubiquinol into the North American market in 2007-2008.
What did I find? On the website of a man who is an osteopathic physician, who is board-certified in family medicine, and who is a fellow of the American College of Nutrition (information taken from his website), I found the appeal to authority fallacy employed in support of ubiquinol QH2 supplements. And I wondered, is this really the best that can be said for the ubiquinol supplements?
Setting up the authority
First, the osteopathic physician set up the authority. He was interviewing, he told his readers, a man who has done a bachelor’s degree in biology, a Ph.D. in chemistry/biochemistry, and postdoctoral work and staff research in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology. Okay, I thought. Here we have a doctor interviewing an expert. This should be an interesting interview to read.
The authority was established. And the authority proceeded to tell me that I should buy the ubiquinol QH2 supplement because it is the better form for me.
Three weak arguments for taking the ubiquinol form
But the authority’s arguments were so weak that I was surprised that a trained scientist would trot them out. Essentially, the authority gave three reasons why I should take a ubiquinol QH2 supplement and not a ubiquinone Q10 supplement.
No discussion of the redox chemistry of Q10 molecules
Argument number one was that ubiquinol is “electron rich” while ubiquinone is “electron deficient.” This was so strange to read. Clearly, I was intended to think that “rich” is good and “deficient” is bad.
Here was a trained biologist not mentioning anything about the redox chemistry of the Q10 molecule. He was not mentioning anything about the way in which the Q10 molecules repeatedly take on and give off electrons to convert back and forth between their oxidized Q10 form and their reduced QH2 form in the body. He gave the impression that the Q10 molecule is used once and that the Q10 molecule is most effective if it is ingested in its reduced ubiquinol QH2 form. But he didn’t give any solid evidence to support his claim.
Bogus analogy to vitamin supplements
I could feel my toes curl with embarrassment at the deceptive way the biologist presented the difference between ubiquinone Q10 and ubiquinol QH2. He tried to draw a bogus analogy to the taking of vitamin C and vitamin E. Those vitamins are taken in the reduced form, similar to the ubiquinol QH2, he said, and no one would take vitamin C and vitamin E in the oxidized form. Why, then, he asked, would anyone take Coenzyme Q10 in the un-oxidized form?
It was at that point that the alarm bells started going off in my head. This guy is a scientist, but he is being disingenuous, I thought. I was disappointed.
Ubiquinone and ubiquinol in the body
The honest way for any biologist or biochemist to explain the ubiquinone-ubiquinol issue is to say that when people take a well-formulated ubiquinone Q10 supplement, the Q10 molecules will pass in the chyme to the small intestine, still in the oxidized ubiquinone Q10 form. Upon being absorbed, the ubiquinone Q10 molecules will diffuse into the lymph capillaries in the intestinal walls and will be predominantly converted and transported in the lymph and in the blood in the reduced ubiquinol QH2 form (1).
When the ubiquinol QH2 molecules reach the cells, they will be converted back to the ubiquinone Q10 form and will play an important role in cellular energy production. In the process of energy production, the Q10 molecules will be converted back again to QH2 molecules and will be available for a role in cellular protection (antioxidant protection). This redox conversion back and forth will take place many times in the body.
Ubiquinol very unstable in the stomach, converts to ubiqunone
Please notice that neither the doctor doing the interview nor the authority being interviewed said anything to explain why people would want to take a ubiquinol QH2 supplement that is known to be very unstable in the stomach and that is known to be converted to the ubiquinone Q10 form prior to absorption (1). The reason I started reading this interview was that I would like to know why I am being urged to take my Q10 supplement in the ubiquinol QH2 form when I already know that the ingested ubiquinol will be converted to ubiquinone Q10 in my stomach.
Incomplete information about absorption studies
Argument number two from the authority was absorption. Coenzyme Q10 ingested in the ubiquinol QH2 form would be absorbed much better than Coenzyme Q10 ingested in the ubiquinone Q10 form, the authority said.
Please note that the authority didn’t say anything about the following variables in the various absorption studies.
- Differences in participant samples
- Differences in Q10 formulations
- Differences in analytical procedures
It is strange that the biologist/biochemist did not tell whether the absorption of the ubiquinol QH2 was being compared with the absorption of a dry powder Q10 preparation as opposed to being compared with the absorption of an oil-based Q10 preparation. We have known for a long time that there will be poor absorption of crystal-laden dry powder Q10 preparations. It is easy enough to out-perform a poor achiever.
Misleading information about 100 studies
Argument number three was that there have been “well over 100 studies” demonstrating the health benefits of ubiquinol QH2 supplements. Perhaps there are over 100 studies, but most of the 100 studies are laboratory studies or animal studies. They are not human studies. And they are not gold standard scientific studies – randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials — like the ones we have seen with ubiquinone Q10.
The doctor and the biologist do make one good point. Anyone taking a statin medication, they say, needs very much to be taking a Q10 supplement because the statin medication interferes with the body’s synthesis of Q10. Agreed. 100% in agreement. But, neither the doctor nor the biologist explains why I should take my Coenzyme Q10 supplement in the ubiquinol form when the body itself synthesizes its Coenzyme Q10 in the ubiquinone form.
Summary on Q10 and QH2
Both forms of Coenzyme Q10, the oxidized ubiquinone Q10 form and the reduced ubiquinol QH2 form, are important to our health, each in its own way, and especially so as we grow older. Given the present extent of the research and development, the oxidized ubiquinone Q10 form is still the preferred form to take for a number of reasons:
- it is the stable form
- it is the heavily researched form
- It is the form that the body itself makes
- It is form that the body converts to the reduced ubiquinol form as needed
Be on guard
As I say, we have to watch for the use of fallacies in persuasive arguments all the time.
Judy, W.V., Stogsdill, W.W., Judy, D.S., & Judy, J.S. (2007). Coenzyme Q10: Facts or Fabrications? Natural Products Insider. Retrieved from http://www.zmc-usa.com/docs/CoQ10_Facts_or_Fabrications.pdfPlease click here for more information about the ubiquinone-ubiquiinol issue.