In this article, you’ll learn 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. CoQ10 is one of the ingredients in our pre-made nootropic stack, Seneca Nootropic Complex.
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 (ETC) in the mitochondria.
The mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells, they produce the vast majority of the energy we use. There are a few select cells (out of 20 trillion or so) that don’t have mitochondria. But in all the others, there are between 2000 to 3000 mitochondria per cell.
CoQ10’s role in ETC is an amazing feat of evolution. So, the mitochondria have 2 membranes – an inner membrane and an outer membrane. The outer one separates the mitochondria from the cytoplasm of the cell.
The ETC sits in the inner mitochondrial membrane. The inner membrane’s role is to pump hydrogen ions into the intramembrane space between the inner and outer membranes (see image below).
CoQ10 and the electron transport chain’s 4 protein complexes
Before we dive into these complexes, let’s talk about hydrogen.
Hydrogen is the simplest atom in the periodic table. It has one proton (positive charge), one electron (negative charge), and one neutron (neutral charge).
Hydrogen likes to lose the electron to make it more stable. This results in hydrogen having only the proton and neutron, giving it a positive charge overall. This is why hydrogen ions are normally written as H+.
Going back to the protein complexes, their job is to pump these hydrogen atoms into the intramembrane space. And as this happens, the hydrogen atoms release their electrons, thereby becoming H+.
What happens to the electrons from hydrogen atoms?
CoQ10 (Q in the image above) picks up the electrons from hydrogen. They become part of the ‘machinery’, along with cytochrome C (Cyt C), that passes the electrons along the chain to the end.
When they’re at the end of the chain, the electrons combine with oxygen, thus resulting to free radicals. But because we have the body’s main antioxidant enzymes readily available there, the free radical is safely turned into water.
How energy is made from hydrogen
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.
The mitochondria then open a gate that the hydrogen ions can flow through. This “gate” is actually an enzyme called ATP synthase.
ATP synthase acts like a turbine, and just like a hydroelectric dam, as the hydrogen ions flow through the turbine, it turns. This motion adds an adenosine molecule to ADP, therefore making ATP or 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
CoQ10 is a fat-soluble lipid, found predominantly in our cell membranes. But CoQ10 is not just about energy. Because it can accept electrons, it also means it can act as a powerful antioxidant.
Studies show that CoQ10 can prevent the formation of lipid peroxyl radicals, and the subsequent damage they do to cell membranes. It can also protect against damage to proteins and DNA (1).
In the blood, CoQ10 protects LDL cholesterol and endothelial cells against oxidative damage. This is big risk factor for the development of heart disease (2). Additionally, CoQ10’s antioxidant potential also extends to the neurons of the brain and central nervous system.
CoQ10 can stop oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. It also stimulates the production of the main endogenous antioxidants, namely, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase (3, 4).
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 increased lifespan and reduced risk of chronic disease development.
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, reduced lysosomal function, and autophagy (5). Reduced autophagy may lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS (6).
CoQ10 supplementation also stimulates the genes (AMPK and Sirt1) that cause autophagy, DNA repair, and an increased lifespan (7).
Also, studies done in mice show that CoQ10 can increase the gene PCG-1α. This gene is the master controller of new mitochondria production. More healthy mitochondria help us to produce more energy, more efficiently. It reduces damage from oxidative stress (from free radicals) (8). It is also associated with an increased lifespan.
4) 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, researchers found that forgetful individuals (between 50 and 70 years old) who took PQQ + Q10 together had better scores on cognitive tests. They performed better than those who just took PQQ or those who just took CoQ10 (9).
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.
5) Cardiac function and lipid profile
CoQ10 supplementation may help improve cardiac health and lead to fewer 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 it even prevents heart disease, too (13).
Additionally, supplementing with CoQ10 may help improve metabolic syndrome symptoms. It can reduce obesity and fatty acid storage in the liver (i.e. fatty liver). Moreover, it can increase 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 burns excess energy to produce heat, allowing fewer excess calories to be stored as fat.
6) 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, the electron transport chain handles electrons and turns it 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 does immune function. But CoQ10 can help improve immune function in older individuals. This was demonstrated in a mice study, where older mice were intravenously given 125mg of CoQ10. Their immune system response was restored to about 80% of the response seen in younger mice (16).
In humans, a study looked at over 13,000 COVID-19 patients and compared them to over 23,000 controls. The controls were people of similar age, with similar health risks for covid. The researchers found that those supplemented with CoQ10 had a significantly lower risk of being hospitalized for covid (17).
Also, in a randomized controlled study, subjects were given a hepatitis B vaccine. They took 180mg of CoQ10 per day for 3 months. Researchers reported that these subjects had a 57% increase in antibody production over those who did not take CoQ10 (18).
7) Improved immune markers in athletes
While short-term exercise can boost immune function, intensive and prolonged exercise can depress immune function. And it can make athletes more susceptible to infections, especially upper respiratory tract infections. However, elite swimmers and Kendo athletes (it’s a Japanese martial art) who supplemented with CoQ10 found a significant reduction in inflammation markers (19, 20).
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. Taking statins, therefore, results in lower blood levels of CoQ10.
It has long been argued that one of the causes of statin side effects comes from lower CoQ10 levels (21). So, it’s recommended for anyone taking statins to also supplement with CoQ10.
How much Coenzyme Q10 should I take?
CoQ10 dosages vary considerably. The American Daily Physician recommends the following dosages (22):
- 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
- Parkinson’s disease: 300 to 1,200 mg per day in four divided doses
- Cardiovascular issues: typically 50 to 200 mg per day
- Diabetes: 100 to 200 mg per day
- Healthy people: 30mg to 100mg
Are there any side effects of taking CoQ10?
CoQ10 is generally well tolerated with few reported side effects beyond slight stomach complaints.