Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – also referred to as ‘ubiquinone' – is an oil soluble molecule found all over the body, mainly in the membranes of organelles like the mitochondria that exist inside all cells (organelles are tiny ‘cells’ within cells).
Its name derives from the word ‘ubiquitous’ (widely spread) precisely due to the fact that it is needed everywhere in the body.
CoQ10’s primary function is energy production. It is most prevalent in the inner membrane of the mitochondrion – where energy is created for the body’s daily needs.
Other organelles that show high concentrations of CoQ10 are in areas that require energy for transport and manufacturing like the lysosomes, peroxisomes, vesicles and also the endoplasmic reticulum (an organelle whose responsibility includes making proteins from amino acids – very important).
What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are energy producing organelles that exist inside all cells. In an evolutionary sense we inherited these mitochondria from bacteria, way back at the dawn of life on this Earth. The theory goes that archaebacteria without mitochondria (oldest life form on the planet) ingested another species of bacteria (that had mitochondria inside them) and that that’s how eukaryotic (animal) cells evolved and eventually human beings came about (factor in a couple billion years of evolutionary processes for us to evolve from jelly fish). Biologists believe that without this ‘chance ingestion’ of mitochondria, no multicellular life would have evolved.
Mitochondria harbour a fantastic process known as the citric acid cycle (or Kreb’s cycle – named after Hans Krebs who identified it in 1937) where energy is created via an elaborate electrochemical cycle that promotes an electron transport chain which ultimately yields a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from its precursor molecule adenosine diphosphate (ADP). In the presence of oxygen electrons are switched from one molecule to another, hereby creating an energy gradient that allows an extra phosphorus to be added to ADP in order for it to become ATP – the molecule that is universally used throughout the body to transport ‘energy’ from cell to cell and organelle to organelle (which sounds strange, but its more ‘potential’ energy – as that phosphorus is a very reactive atom and is needed in all cells to drive metabolic reactions).
95% of the human body’s energy is generated by converting ADP to ATP via the electron transport chain (aerobic respiration that occurs in the citric acid cycle – Krebs’s cycle).
CoenzymeQ10 also possesses the unique quality of regenerating vitamin E and vitamin C levels throughout the body.
Again, the fundamental importance of coenzyme Q10 is metabolic energy.
History of CoQ10
The American scientist Fred Cane discovered CoQ10 in 1957. Then in 1972 several studies showed that a deficiency of CoQ10 in the body was related to heart disease in humans. Nearly ten years later Cane’s colleague Peter Mitchell postulated that this enzyme had significance in energy production and he proceeded to outline and describe the electron transport chain (for which received the Nobel Prize in 1978).
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s many clinical trials validated the claims regarding CoQ10’s importance in energy production and maintaining overall health – especially in old age.
One study in particular, demonstrated in rats that even low doses of CoQ10 reduced both oxidation and the incidence of DNA strand breaks caused through oxidative stress. It concluded that a combination of a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and CoQ10 supplementation lead to a longer lifespan in these rats.
Cholesterol Medication and CoQ10 levels
Most cholesterol medication (like statins or red yeast rice) lower overall CoQ10 concentrations in the body – mainly because these act on the liver, which produces a large portion of naturally occurring CoQ10. So if you have been diagnosed with high LDL cholesterol and have been advised to take medication, then it is important to supplement with CoQ10.
Foods with high Co-Enzyme Q10 content
At an average of approximately 115 mg per kg, the hearts from either a cow, pig or chicken have the highest concentrations of CoQ10 of any food source on Earth. The highest concentrations in vegetables and fruits are soya bean, grape seed and olive oil.
These are closely followed by sesame seeds, walnuts, peanuts and parsley.
The fish with the highest CoQ10 content are sardines.
What’s the difference between Ubiquinone and Ubiquinol?
Ubiquinol is the reduced form of CoQ10 or ubiquinone. ‘Reduced’ means that it has gained electrons and is therefore able to share these electrons where needed (as in the citric acid cycle for energy production). The body naturally converts ubiquinone to ubiquinol before transporting it around the blood stream.
As we get older, the body’s supply of both forms decreases and the conversion from ubiquinone to ubiquinol happens at a slower rate. This is why it is important to supplement with either form. Some studies have suggested that people over the age of 50 should be supplementing with ubiquinol as it is more readily absorbed.
Yet again, other studies have suggested that ubiquinol is easily oxidised once it enters the gastrointestinal tract, meaning it becomes ubiquinone once swallowed anyway.
Either way, it is good to be aware of this little rate-limiting (crucial) enzyme required by every cell in our body (especially heart tissue) when it comes to our cardiovascular health, our antioxidant capabilities and our overall energy levels.
In essence, CoQ10 is a ubiquitously required powerhouse fuel, without which our bodies would not be able to do the amazing things they do to keep us alive and happy.
by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology
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“Coenzyme Q10 in cardiovascular disease with emphasis on heart failure and myocardial ischaemia.” Asia Pacific Heart J. 1998;7(3):160-8. Langsjoen PH, Langsjoen AM.
“Study on safety and bioavailability of ubiquinol after single and 4-week multiple oral administration to healthy volunteers.” Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2007 Feb;47(1):19-28. Hosoe K, Kitano M, Kishida H, Kubo H, Fujii K, Kitahara M.
“Coenzyme Q10 and cardiovascular disease: a review.” Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 16 (4): 9–20 2002 Sarter, B
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