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Coenzyme Q10: A Little-Known Supplement Yields Big Results

Author: Rustin Hartman
Source: Breakthroughs In Health, April 2007, Volume 2, Issue 2

While many people take some form of dietary supplement, there is one nutrient most have never heard of that could benefit them at least as much as the popular vitamins and minerals. In fact, it could be that no other nutrient is as versatile and as involved in the basic cellular function of so many different parts of the human body than coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

Also known as ubiquinone, CoQ10 is produced naturally in the human body and is necessary for the basic function of all cells. It was discovered in 1957 by Frederick Crane, Ph.D., and in 1961, Peter D. Mitchell, Ph.D., discovered how CoQ10 produces energy at the cellular level. For his landmark research, Dr. Mitchell was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Why Supplement?

CoQ10 can be obtained from food, especially meat, but is hard to get in concentrated amounts because it’s destroyed when food is highly processed – and these days, most foods are processed in some way. Also, natural production of CoQ10 by our bodies decreases as we age, and often decreases when a person suffers from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, cancer and HIV or AIDS. Further experts believe that some pharmaceutical drugs may lower levels of CoQ10.

Coenzyme Q10 acts much like a vitamin and has been widely studied and applauded for its anti-aging properties. In fact, it’s important to remember that all vitamins actually function as coenzymes in the body.

CoQ10 is involved in literally thousands of unique biological functions. Perhaps the most important function is its role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a building block of energy in every cell in the body. CoQ10 also fulfills the extremely important role of an antioxidant free-radical scavenger.

Many health experts believe that supplementing our diets with coenzyme Q10 can actually slow or reverse the aging process.

Studies indicate that it may be a valuable option for people suffering stomach ulcers, periodontal disease, high blood pressure, impotence and even cardiovascular disease. Other studies hint that it may even improve aerobic stamina and performance and may hasten weight loss. CoQ10 has also long been valued for its ability to support the immune system and boost energy levels. Recently, CoQ10 has come under close scrutiny for its potential benefits for three extremely important health disorders: heart disease, cancer and AIDS.

Coenzyme Q10 for Heart Disease

The heart-related benefits of CoQ10 are well documented in medical journals around the world. In fact, CoQ10 is one of the most frequently prescribed “drugs” in Japan for heart conditions. It’s also widely used in Europe for the same reason. Most doctors in the United States have not even heard about CoQ10.

In the mid-1960s, researchers in Japan discovered that CoQ10 can be found in concentrated levels in the heart, specifically the myocardium, or heart muscle. If you consider the fact that the heart is the hardest-working muscle in the body, it makes sense that it would contain high levels of coenzyme. The heart beats roughly 100,000 times each day and depends on CoQ10 to produce the energy to sustain that much work.

In the early 1980s, researchers at the University of Texas performed the first study of CoQ10 for the treatment of progressive heart failure. The study followed a number of patients who were expected to die of heart failure within weeks or months. These patients were given coenzyme Q10 supplements, theoretically to replace lost or insufficient levels of CoQ10 in the cells of the heart. The researchers recorded that all 19 patients exhibited “extraordinary clinical improvement.”

One well-known case demonstrates the potentially dramatic effect of CoQ10 on the heart. A 43-year-old man suffering from progressive heart failure had a severely enlarged heart, a sign that the heart is working inefficiently. After taking CoQ10 for a certain period, the man’s heart decreased in size, his heart failure ceased, and he was able to resume an active lifestyle. A number of other studies and cases confirm these kinds of results, although not all patients achieved such astounding results.

Other studies have reported improvements in overall heart function. In parts of Europe, Russia and Japan, CoQ10 is a standard part of treatment for congestive heart failure patients.

Coenzyme Q10 for Cancer

CoQ10 is best known in the scientific community for its benefits to heart health. But two landmark studies suggest that it may also have great potential for the treatment or prevention of cancer. In 1993, researchers treated 10 cancer patients (who also had heart failure) with coenzyme Q10. The majority of the cancer patients showed some improvement. One man in particular experienced an amazing reaction. Having been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 1977, this man began taking CoQ10 and kept taking it for 17 years. Afterward, he showed no signs of either cancer or heart failure.

Several other studies have examined the effect of CoQ10 on women with breast cancer. Researchers found reduced levels of CoQ10 in cancerous breast tissue and diseased blood samples. The researchers suggested that increasing CoQ10 levels with supplements might counteract this effect. In a clinical study performed in Denmark, a physician treated 32 “high-risk” breast cancer patients with a nutritional supplementation program made up of antioxidant vitamins, essential fatty acids and coenzyme Q10. The doctor reported that none of his patients died and that every one felt an increase in energy and overall well-being. While these results do not prove that coenzyme Q10 can cure cancer, they do show great promise for further study.

One patient experienced especially amazing results. The doctor reported that a 59-year-old patient had a tumor removed from her breast, but the tumor later returned and grew to between one-half and three-quarters of an inch in diameter, where it stabilized. The patient refused further surgery and began taking a large dose of supplemental CoQ10 every day for several months. One month after increasing her dosage even more, the patients’s tumor disappeared. It could not be found by direct examination or by a mammogram. The physician, Dr. Knud Lockwood, remarked that he had treated more than 7,000 cases of breast cancer over 35 years, and in all of that time he had “never seen a spontaneous, complete regression” of a tumor that large – at least until he started administering coenzyme Q10.

Coenzyme Q10 for HIV and AIDS

The story of coenzyme Q10 as a treatment for HIV and AIDS is interesting. In 1986, researchers performed the first informal clinical trial by treating seven patients suffering from HIV or AIDS with coenzyme Q10. The researchers reported that, even though not all patients took CoQ10 consistently, the treatment was “very encouraging and at times even striking.” All seven patients reported feeling better after starting on coenzyme Q10. The researchers believed the treatment with CoQ10 literally extended the life spans of their patients.

This study’s results were so striking that the University of Texas, where the study was performed, applied for a use patent for coenzyme Q10 as an AIDS treatment. The patent gave the university full rights to use CoQ10 against AIDS. The researchers definitely saw something important in that study. Now a pharmaceutical company has purchased the patent for a large sum and plans to market a prescription version of CoQ10 specifically for the treatment of AIDS. But the fact remains that the body must be able to absorb, assimilate and use nutrients, and experience tells us that the body is best able to use nutrients that come from natural sources.

CoQ10: Finding It and Using It

So what is the best way to use CoQ10? Is it safe? It makes sense that, since studies of patients with heart disease, cancer and AIDS show they are deficient in CoQ10, a supplement may help. CoQ10 is found in many foods, but it is found in significant levels only in organ meats, not the first food choices for most people. The question is, when you’re sick, weak or aging and your CoQ10 levels are getting lower and lower, is there another way to make up the difference? Some experts don’t believe the body can do it by itself. If the great majority of Americans are already deficient in the more popular vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, they’re unlikely to be getting sufficient amounts of coenzyme Q10.

With all of the remarkable scientific evidence available, you may be wondering why most doctors in the United States don’t know about and don’t use coenzyme Q10. A noted CoQ10 expert, Peter Langsjoen, M.D., explained it: “The controversy surrounding CoQ10 is…political and economic, as the previous 30 years research on CoQ10 have been remarkably consistent and free of major controversy. Although it is not the first time that a fundamental and clinically important discovery has come about without the backing of a pharmaceutical company, it is the first such discovery to so radically alter how physicians must view disease. While the pharmaceutical industry does a good job at physician and patient education on their new products, the distributors of CoQ10 are not as effective at this.”

According to most of the current research, a dose of CoQ10 of between 200 and 400 milligrams can be both safe and therapeutic. Experts also explain that a smaller dose, between 10 and 30 milligrams, can have a safe, preventive effect. Of course, it is always best to use CoQ10 and other supplements under the supervision of a physician, even if they do not completely understand or are not familiar with the supplement.

Getting Over the Hill Gracefully with CoQ10

Maybe the best-documented benefit of coenzyme Q10 is in dealing with aging and age-related health problems. Dozens of studies over the years have indicated that as we age our levels of CoQ10 decrease. Scientific research indicates that supplementing the body with CoQ10 as its levels naturally decrease as we get older may be one of the best things we can do to slow the aging process. Coenzyme Q10 truly is one of the most versatile and beneficial nutrients – something so important to our health should be a nutritional priority.