The highest concentrations are found in the energy-intensive cells of the heart and muscles.
Co-enzyme Q10 is a catalyst for chemical reactions that break down food into energy. It is also the most important fat soluble antioxidant in the body along with vitamin E.
There are two types of co-enzyme Q10 – the oxidised version called ubiquinone or ubiquinol (the unoxidised/reduced form). Ubiquinol is two times more bio-available than ubiquinone, which is why it is becoming more popular as a supplement.
Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Co-enzyme Q10 is an important antioxidant made in cells to protect cell membranes against damage, and to allow the safe processing of oxygen to generate energy. Levels of co-enzyme Q10 fall with age and supplements can help to improve muscle energy production and function. Ubiquinol is also popular to support treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs which switch off co-enzyme Q10 production so that circulating co-enzyme Q10 levels fall. This has been linked with statin-associated muscle side effects.
Ubiquinol is a more bio-available form of co-enzyme Q10 and at least one study has shown that it enhances physical performance in young elite athletes.’
What does ubiquinol do?
Ubiquinol is an antioxidant which is inserted into cell membranes to help protect them from damage due to oxidative stress (caused by unstable oxygen molecules) which can lead to premature ageing and disease.
Organs such as the heart and muscles depend on a constant supply of co-enzyme Q10 and produce less energy and strength if they are deficient in it. Ubiquinol is described as more body friendly as more of it is absorbed into the circulation.
Co-enzyme Q10 is concentrated in the cells of the heart and muscles which have high energy requirements.
Some studies show that co-enzyme Q10 may have benefits for people with congestive heart failure – where the heart muscle doesn’t pump as well as it should because it’s become too weak or too stiff – although the evidence is mixed on this.
Around half of people in the UK have raised cholesterol levels, build-up of a waxy substance made in the liver that can clog arteries and raise the risk of a heart attack.
More than seven million people in the UK are now prescribed the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins. Statins lower cholesterol but have also been shown to lower co-enzyme Q10 levels.
Older people are particularly at risk as ageing also appears 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 including muscle pain, lack of energy and fatigue on exertion and liver problems, but not all experts agree with this.
Evidence about whether co-enzyme Q10 can reduce statin-induced muscle pain has been conflicting. Earlier trials didn’t find co-enzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) reduced muscle pain and it was suggested the problem could be that it wasn’t well absorbed.
But more recent studies investigating the effects of ubiquinol on healthy volunteers confirmed it is much better absorbed from the gut. A study looking at the effects of statins on liver function in people who also took ubiquinol showed the supplement may provide beneficial changes to reduce the effects of co-enzyme Q10 deficiency.
Sustained heavy physical training has been shown to deplete co-enzyme Q10 levels in the body and lead to deficiency.
A study in elite German athletes found those given a 300mg ubiquinol supplement for six weeks had significantly enhanced physical performance compared to a placebo group. The authors suggested that older athletes and ‘weekend warriors’ might profit even more from the supplements as ageing reduces the amount of co-enzyme Q10 in tissues, too.
Getting vitamin B from your diet
Ubiquinol is found in many foods. One analysis found it was present in 66 out of 70 food items tested, including beef, pork, chicken, mackerel, tuna, broccoli and parsley.
Ubiquinol appears to be well tolerated. In rare cases it may cause stomach upsets, diarrhoea or nausea.
There is no RDA for ubiquinol. A typical daily dose is 100mg. Do not exceed the recommended dosage on the supplement packaging.
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.