In this article, you’ll learn all about the mechanism of action of Coenzyme Q10 and its corresponding health benefits. It’s vital for every aspect of our health – from its energy-boosting and antioxidant properties to immunity and autophagy.
What is Coenzyme Q10?
Coenzyme Q10, aka CoQ10 or Ubiquinone, is a vital part of the machinery that allows us to produce energy. Specifically, it’s a part of the Electron Transport Chain in the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, they produce the vast majority of the energy we use. Although there are a few select cells of our 20 trillion or so in our body that don’t have mitochondria, in all the others there are on average between 2000 and 3000 mitochondria per cell.
CoQ10’s role in the electron transport chain is an amazing feat of evolution. The mitochondria have 2 membranes – an inner membrane and an outer membrane that separates the mitochondria from the cytoplasm of the cell. The electron transport chain sits in the inner mitochondrial membrane and its role is to pump hydrogen ions into the intramembrane space between the inner and outer membranes.
Hydrogen is the simplest atom in the periodic table and has one proton, one electron, and one neutron. However, it likes to lose the electron, which makes it more stable. Because an electron has a negative charge, when the hydrogen loses it, it’s just left with the positive proton and the neutral neutron, giving it a positive charge overall. This is why hydrogen ions are normally written as H+.
The electron transport chain has four protein complexes. It’s the job of these complexes to pump these hydrogen atoms into the intramembrane space. And as this happens, the hydrogen atoms release their electrons, becoming H+.
CoQ10 (Q) picks up these electrons and is part of the machinery along with cytochrome C (Cyt C) that passes the electrons along the chain to the end. Once at the end of the chain, the electrons are combined with oxygen to create free radicals. But because we have the body’s main antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase readily available there, we can safely turn the free radical into water.
How the body then creates energy from the hydrogen ions is a thing of beauty. All the hydrogen ions in the intramembrane space create a big gradient in 3 ways:
- First, because H+ has a positive charge, lots of H+ ions together create an electrical gradient.
- Second, all the H+ ions create a chemical gradient because there is a high concentration of them.
- Third, it’s a PH gradient because H+ is acidity. So the hydrogen ions really want to escape the intramembrane space to find negativity, alkalinity, and space with fewer hydrogen ions.
Therefore the mitochondria open a gate that the hydrogen ions can flow through, this “gate” is actually an enzyme called ATP synthase. ATP synthase is a turbine, and just like a hydroelectric dam, as the hydrogen ions flow through the turbine, it turns and this motion causes an adenosine molecule to be added to ADP making ATP, which is energy.
You can see the ATP synthase enzyme working in this video below:
What are the benefits of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)?
1) CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant
But CoQ10 is not just about energy. Because it can accept electrons, it also means it can act as a powerful antioxidant. CoQ10 is a lipid and lipids are fat-soluble, and it is found predominantly in the membranes of our cells. Studies have shown that CoQ10 can prevent the formation of lipid peroxyl radicals, and the subsequent damage that they do to cell membranes. However, in addition to its role in protecting the fat-soluble areas of our cell membranes, studies have also shown it can protect against damage to proteins and DNA too (1).
In the blood, it protects LDL cholesterol and endothelial cells against oxidative damage which are a big risk factor for the development of heart disease (2). Studies have also shown that this antioxidant potential extends to the neurons of the brain and central nervous system as well.
CoQ10 is able to stop oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, but also stimulate the production of the body’s main endogenous antioxidants glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase both in the brain (3) and the rest of the body (4, 5).
2) Helps with autophagy
Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out dead or damaged cellular components, so we can regenerate healthy cells. It’s associated with an increased lifespan and a reduced risk of the development of chronic disease. Autophagy involves the breakdown of old and damaged components in vesicles called lysosomes. Lysosomes are able to break down the components by maintaining an acidic interior.
CoQ10 is able to maintain this acidic environment by pumping in H+ ions (which are acidic). Any deficiency in CoQ10 leads to reduced acidity and reduced lysosomal function and autophagy (6). This reduced autophagy has been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS (7).
As well as being involved in the process of autophagy itself, CoQ10 supplementation has also been shown to be involved in stimulating the genes that cause autophagy and DNA repair. These are AMPK and Sirt1 and both are associated with an increased lifespan (8).
Also, as well as being necessary for proper mitochondrial functioning, CoQ10 has shown in studies on mice that it can increase the gene PCG-1α, which is the master controller of the production of new mitochondria. Having more healthy mitochondria helps us to produce more energy, more efficiently, so reducing damage from oxidate stress (i.e from free radicals) (9), and this is associated with an increased lifespan.
4) Cardiac function and lipid profile
CoQ10 supplementation is associated with improved cardiac health and less adverse cardiac events, i.e. strokes and heart attacks (10, 11). It also helps improve blood flow in endothelial cells (cells lining the arteries, veins, and capillaries) (12) and prevents heart disease (13).
It’s also been found that CoQ10 supplementation can improve metabolic syndrome, reduce obesity as well as reducing fatty acid storage in the liver (i.e fatty liver), as well as increasing the ratio of brown fat to white fat (14). Brown fat is a type of fat that is more metabolically active than white fat. It is associated with burning excess energy to produce heat, allowing less excess calories to be stored as fat.
5) Coenzyme Q10 boosts the immune system
One of the least well-understood benefits of CoQ10 is its effect on immune function. As we discussed earlier in the background section, the electron transport chain handles electrons that it turns into free radicals and then safely into water. However, in immune cells these free radicals are not turned into water, they are actually used to kill pathogens (15).
So in the same way that our ability to produce energy will decline with age, so too does immune function. In one study using mice, the immune system’s response to injection with sheep blood (which should create a strong immune response), was reduced by 50% in old mice when compared to young mice. However, following an intravenous administration of 125mcg of CoQ10, the immune system response in the older mice was restored to 80% of the response seen in younger mice (16).
In humans, a study looked at over 13000 patients who had been hospitalized for COVID-19 and compared them to over 23,000 controls (people of a similar age, with similar health risks for covid). The researchers found that if the subjects supplemented with CoQ10, there was a significantly lower risk of them being hospitalized for COVID-19 (17).
Also in a randomized controlled study, subjects who had been given a hepatitis B vaccine had a 57% increase in antibody production after supplementing with 180mg of Coq10 per day for 3 months, than controls who did not supplement with CoQ10 (18).
6) Improved immune markers in athletes
Whilst short-term exercise can boost immune function, intensive and prolonged exercise can depress immune function and make athletes more susceptible to infections, especially upper respiratory tract infections (19). However, supplementation with CoQ10 in elite swimmers and Kendo athletes (Kendo is a Japanese martial art), found a significant reduction in markers of inflammation (20, 21).
7) Synergy with PQQ and improved cognitive function
CoQ10 supplementation seems to work very well with another molecule called PQQ in improving cognitive function. For example, a study on 65 subjects between 50 and 70 who had forgetfulness (identified by a family member, colleague, or acquaintance), found that subjects who had supplemented with PQQ and CoQ10 together had improved scores on cognitive tests, over those that just took PQQ or just took CoQ10 (22).
Because of CoQ10 and PQQ’s tangible effects on cognitive function, we added these two natural nootropics to Seneca Nootropic complex. Each serving of Seneca contains 100mg of CoQQ10 and 10mg of PQQ, along with 16 other research-backed ingredients. Read our article on What are Nootropics? to learn more about cognitive enhancing supplements like Seneca.
8) CoQ10 and Statins
Statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, work by inhibiting the enzyme HMG CoA reductase which reduces the production of mevalonate. After its production, mevalonate is used to produce cholesterol, however, it’s also used to produce CoQ10. This means taking statins results in lower blood levels of CoQ10, and it has long been argued that one of the causes of statin side effects comes from the lower CoQ10 levels (23). So it’s recommended for anyone taking statins to also supplement with CoQ10.
How much Coenzyme Q10 should I take?
CoQ10 dosages can vary considerably, but the dosages recommended by American Daily Physician are (24):
- For mitochondrial issues: 150 mg per day or 2 mg per kg per day with titration up to 3,000 mg per day in some patients
- For Parkinson’s disease: 300 to 1,200 mg per day in four divided doses
- For cardiovascular issues: typically 50 to 200 mg per day
- For diabetes: 100 to 200 mg per day
For otherwise healthy people, a dose from 30mg to 100mg is generally considered adequate.
Are there any side effects of taking CoQ10?
CoQ10 is generally well tolerated with few reported side effects beyond slight stomach complaints.
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