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Supercharging Your Antioxidants With CoQ10

Even if you eat well and take a multivitamin, some doctors think that a little-known antioxidant called coenzyme Q10 may be a wise addition to your daily lineup. Evidence indicates the nutrient, called CoQ10 for short, may be especially beneficial for the heart. It may also aid in cancer prevention, slow brain deterioration in Parkinson’s disease, decrease fatigue and help maintain healthy gums.

Coenzyme Q10 is made in the body and found in almost all cells, but levels decrease as we age. It's also found in most foods, though in tiny amounts. That's why some experts advise those older than age 40 to take coenzyme Q10 supplements. Researcher Lester Packer, Ph.D., of the University of California at Berkeley and author of The Antioxidant Miracle (Wiley, 1999), recommends that coenzyme Q10 be taken together with other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. "Together, these antioxidants form a strong network," he says. CoQ10, he believes, helps recharge vitamin E, boosting its antioxidant powers.

In the body, coenzyme Q10 acts like a vitamin and plays two vital roles. First, as a potent antioxidant, it neutralizes the cell-damaging free radicals that are thought to contribute to heart disease and cancer. Second, it helps convert food into energy.

Discovered in 1957 at the University of Wisconsin, coenzyme Q10 is concentrated in the mitochondria, the tiny energy-producing powerhouses of the cell. It is especially prevalent in tissues with high energy demands, such as the heart, brain, and muscles. As a helper substance, coenzyme Q10 provides the spark that drives the generation of ATP, the cell’s primary energy source.

Your CoQ10 Quotient and Your Heart
Approximately three quarters of people with heart disease have low levels of coenzyme Q10. Because of the compound's energy-generating properties, some experts suggest that coenzyme Q10 might ease congestive heart failure by increasing the amount of cellular fuel available to the heart, enabling it to pump more effectively.

Numerous controlled clinical trials, conducted mainly in Europe and Japan, have supported this contention. However, two rigorous recent studies--one from Australia, the other from the University of Maryland--found that compared with a placebo, coenzyme Q10 did not strengthen the heart. Nor did it seem to improve patients' ability to exercise or their overall quality of life.

Dr. Peter Langsjoen, a recognized authority on coenzyme Q10, believes the two recent trials failed because the antioxidant was being used in relatively low doses to treat late-stage disease: "In essence, it was too little, too late." He explains that when heart failure is far advanced, "Viable heart muscle cells are gradually replaced with fibrous tissue. What CoQ10 does is improve the function of what you have left." Dr. Langsjoen notes that when patients are started on coenzyme Q10 within a year or two of the diagnosis, "You have a good chance of achieving marked improvement in heart function." He also feels that longer trials are needed, because "maximal benefits virtually never occur before six months."

One group of heart patients who may clearly benefit from CoQ10 are those taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Mevacor, Lipitor, or Zocor, which can decrease the body’s coenzyme Q10 levels, sometimes dramatically. Dr. Langsjoen believes that the CoQ10-lowering effect of the statins might actually be contributing to the steady increase in the incidence of congestive heart failure in the U.S. in recent years.

There is also intriguing evidence that coenzyme Q10 may protect against other forms of heart disease. Coenzyme Q10 appears to hamper oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, a process implicated in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and coronary artery disease. Evidently, the more coenzyme Q10 contained in LDL cholesterol, the less likely it is to form artery-clogging plaques.

Coenzyme Q10 may also benefit those undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. In an Italian study, patients who took the compound before their operation had significantly fewer irregular heart rhythms during the recovery period. In another recent trial in India, 73 heart attack patients who received coenzyme Q10 daily for one month had less chest pain and fewer rhythm disturbances--and were half as likely to die or have another heart attack--as patients in the control group.

Treating Parkinson’s and More
Coenzyme Q10 has been most extensively studied in heart disease, but its possible role in brain disorders, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Huntington's diseases, is also under active investigation. For example, coenzyme Q10 levels are reduced in Parkinson's patients, and mitochondrial activity is also known to be impaired in early Parkinson's disease. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that coenzyme Q10 supplementation can protect against Parkinsonlike changes in the brains of mice. Studies are now under way to determine whether coenzyme Q10 has a similar nerve-protecting effect in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Because of CoQ10's effects on the energy-generating mitochondria, the Advisor's chief medical consultant, Dr. David Edelberg, and many other nutritionally oriented physicians are using it to treat fatigue, especially that associated with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The supplement may also aid those with gum disease. The gums of people with periodontal disease are often markedly deficient in coenzyme Q10, and studies in both animals and humans suggest that taking the supplement can help protect the gums and even reverse the disease process.

Researchers are also investigating the possible antioxidant benefits of coenzyme Q10 in helping to fight breast cancer and other disorders.

Suggested dose: 50 to 100 mg twice a day with food. Look for capsules or tablets in an oil base, which seem to be absorbed better than powder-based forms. Coenzyme Q10 appears safe and very well tolerated.

Date Published: 07/30/2001
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