Guide to co-enzyme Q10

Co-enzyme Q10 is a biological ‘spark plug’ found in every cell in the human body. The highest concentrations are found in the energy-intensive cells of the heart, kidneys and liver.

Co-enzyme Q10 production starts to decline as we grow older, though levels may also drop if you take statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs now prescribed to millions of people in the UK.

Low levels of co-enzyme Q10 have been linked to a range of health problems, including diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and muscular and cardiovascular conditions.

Taking a co-enzyme Q10 supplement can support heart health and energy metabolism.

Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Co-enzyme Q10 plays a vital role in energy production in cells, and is especially important for muscles and organs to function properly – including the heart. As we grow older we produce less of this vital substance which may contribute to cell ageing and fatigue. Supplements are useful for anyone over the age of 45, and for those who have heart problems which are associated with reduced co-enzyme Q10 levels. It’s also possible that co-enzyme Q10 may boost fertility.’

What does co-enzyme Q10 do?

Co-enzyme Q10 is a substance we make in our own bodies. It acts as a catalyst for chemical reactions that break down food into energy.

It is also one of the most important fat-soluble antioxidants in the body, along with vitamin E. Antioxidants protect cells from damage by free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules which are associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis.

Heart health

Co-enzyme Q10 is found in quite high concentrations in heart muscle cells, to help meet the heart’s energy needs.

Results from a number of studies show people in the early stages of congestive heart failure, where the heart muscle can’t pump efficiently, may benefit from co-enzyme Q10 supplements. However, another review concluded there was insufficient evidence and more studies were needed to confirm this. Other studies have found co-enzyme Q10 has the potential to lower blood pressure without side effects.

Statin side effects

More than seven million people in the UK are now prescribed the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins. These have also been shown to lower co-enzyme Q10 levels. It has been proposed low co-enzyme Q10 levels could play a role in some of the side effects reported by statin users. The symptoms include muscle pain, fatigue, mental fogginess and liver problems. Older people are particularly at risk of statin side effects as ageing also appears to lower co-enzyme Q10 levels.

One review concluded a trial of 200mg a day of co-enzyme Q10 should be considered for patients who suffered statin-related muscle problems. The authors said elderly people taking statins and athletes, or people who fell into both categories, were most likely to derive benefit from supplements, as they were most likely to be deficient in co-enzyme Q10.

Energy

One study which looked at the effects of co-enzyme Q10 supplementation on athletes and non-athletes, over a two-week period, found that after taking the supplements the subjects could train for longer on a treadmill before feeling exhausted. The researchers’ tests also found higher concentrations of co-enzyme Q10 in the athletes’ muscles and fewer markers for oxidative stress.

Getting co-enzyme Q10 from your diet

Co-enzyme Q10 is available in a wide range of foods. Meat, fish and nuts all contain quite high levels of co-enzyme Q10; and it is also found in vegetables, fruits, many dairy products and cereals, but at lower levels.

Safety

Evidence from many scientific studies indicates co-enzyme Q10 is safe to use as a dietary supplement. In trials, the observed upper safety level appeared to be around 1,200mg a day.

Correct dosage

There is no RDA for co-enzyme Q10. If you are taking supplements always make sure that you keep to the dosage guidelines. Dosages are available from 30mg up to 200mg a day, with the higher doses intended for those aged over 50.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

Co-enzyme Q10 plays a vital role in energy production in cells, and is especially important for muscles and organs to function properly – including the heart. As we grow older we produce less of this vital substance which may contribute to cell ageing and fatigue.

Dr Sarah Brewer
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