CoQ10 / Ubiquinol Benefits & Side Effects
If you are a person who keeps up with the latest health news, you have probably heard a great deal about either the benefits of Ubiquinol supplements, also sometimes referred to as CoQ10.
CoQ10 (Ubiquinone) and Ubiquinol may sound like two very different things, but they are actually very similar – almost the same, one could say – but, not quite. While they are more or less the same substance, CoQ10 an Ubiquinol differ slightly and as a result, they have very different functions in our bodies. We will get into the differences in just a bit, but before we do, let’s look at what CoQ10 is.
What is CoQ10?
CoQ10, or Coenzyme Q10, is a vitamin-like substance present throughout the human body. It is not called a vitamin because the human body can synthesize it. Even though we can produce CoQ10, we are less capable of producing CoQ10 the older we become.
What Does CoQ10 Do and Where is It Found?
CoQ10 serves a critical function in the synthesis of energy, meaning the conversion / metabolism of fats and carbohydrates to a usable form of energy known as ATP. The less CoQ10 we have, the less energy we have at a cellular level.
Low CoQ10 levels in the body can lead to a number of problems, from heart failure to high blood pressure, to macular degeneration, to gum disease, to muscle weakness, etc.
CoQ10 is most concentrated in organs like the heart, kidneys, pancreas, and liver that require greater amounts of energy. Thus, some of the most dangerous conditions from a CoQ10 deficiency are related to these organs.
Is It CoQ10 or Ubiquinol?
Now that we know what CoQ10 and Ubiquinol are, let’s look at the actual distinction between the two.
The difference between CoQ10 and Ubiquinol has to do with the number of electrons they carry when you look at them at the atomic level. CoQ10 loses electrons and becomes Ubiquinol, and Ubiquinol gains some electrons and becomes CoQ10.
The transition between Ubiquinol and CoQ10 and back are going on constantly. This is part of what causes the generation of energy in our cells.
CoQ10 and Ubiquinol exist simultaneously in the body, along with a lesser known form called semiquinone. Semiquinone forms when CoQ10 becomes Ubiquinol or when the reverse happens and Ubiquinol becomes CoQ10. Semiquinone is the intermediate step between the two.
Here is what happens in diagram form to simplify what we are talking about:
CoQ10 —> Semiquinone —> Ubiquinol
Ubiquinol —> Semiquinone —> CoQ10
In a healthy, young person CoQ10 and Ubiquinol switch back and forth from one state to the other with relative ease. Most of it (around 95%) stays in the form of Ubiquinol. As we get older, we are less capable of changing CoQ10 into Ubiquinol.
Ubiquinol is a very powerful antioxidant that scavanges free radicals and is a stronger antioxidant than Vitamins C & E. The less ubiquinol we have, the more damage is done by free radicals and oxidation. We commonly refer to this phenomenon as “aging.” It is believed that by supplementing Ubiquinol we can slow down some parts of the aging process like macular degeneration.
CoQ10 vs. Ubiquinol Supplements
CoQ10 is commonly used to refer to both the CoQ10 (CoQH2) and Ubiquinol (CoQ). For simplicity, this article also uses the convention of referring to both Ubiquinol and CoQ10 as “CoQ10.” When discussing which supplement to take, however, it is very important to distinguish between the two.
Our bodies naturally produce CoQ10 and convert it readily to Ubiquinol when we are young. Therefore, energy production is easy. As we age, however, we not only produce less CoQ10, but we are less and less able to convert it to Ubiquinol.
So, in a person who is past his or her 20’s, taking a lot of CoQ10 doesn’t do nearly as much good as taking Ubiquinol since people cannot convert CoQ10 easily once they have reached their 30’s. The older people become, the less their bodies are able to make this important conversion.
Things That Reduce CoQ10 in the Body
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in four people in the United States is taking a form of statin drug to lower cholesterol.
The problem with statin drugs is that in the process of reducing cholesterol, statins interrupt the metabolic pathways in our bodies that produce CoQ10. The less CoQ10 we have available, the less energy we have to function. This is most important in terms of our heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys which need a great deal of energy to work effectively.
Studies have shown that the reduced levels of CoQ10 in the blood as a result of taking statin drugs can be replenished to normal levels with CoQ10 supplementation.
Many people who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol experience a phenomenon known as Statin-Induced Myalgia, or muscle pain caused by taking statin drugs. Taking supplemental CoQ10 after discontinuing statin drugs has been shown to decrease this form of muscle pain.
Studies have shown that CoQ10 is dramatically reduced in persons who smoke, most especially female smokers. The same studies have shown that the reduced levels of CoQ10 in female smokers may lead to the development of atherosclerotic changes and coronary artery disease.
Potential Uses for CoQ10
CoQ10 and Diabetes
There is currently a great deal of research on the supplementation of CoQ10 for people who have diabetes. The research focuses primarily in the role CoQ10 plays in reducing oxidative stress (controlling free radicals), controlling blood sugar, and its effects on beta-cell function (the cells in the pancreas that create insulin). There is no conclusive evidence at this time that proves that the supplementation of CoQ10 has a positive effect on the health of persons with diabetes, but the research looks promising.
CoQ10 and Cancer
Scientists are also interested in the role that CoQ10 plays in cancer patients. A study in 1990 suggested that persons who had metastases (growth of cancer in new areas) of existing cancers showed low CoQ10 levels. However, it is believed that taking CoQ10 during chemotherapy may protect cancer cells and make treatment less effective. Again, more research is needed in this area before conclusions can be drawn.
CoQ10 and Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s Disease is another area in which much research is taking place regarding supplementation with CoQ10. Parkinson’s is a neurological disease which is degenerative and it is believed that problems with the mitochondria (cell powerhouses where CoQ10 works) and oxidative stress play key roles in its development. Some trials have been done to determine whether or not CoQ10 might serve as a form of therapeutic treatment for persons with Parkinson’s Disease. However, there have been conflicting results and not well documented control groups for the studies.
Athletes who are seeking to enhance athletic performance may want to supplement with Ubiquinol. In a study that examined elite athletes who were given Ubiquinol for six weeks during intensive training, it was determined that Ubiquinol “significantly enhanced physical performance measured as maximum power output”.
CoQ10 and Congestive Heart Failure
Persons suffering from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) have been shown to have depleted levels of CoQ10. It is believed that they are suffering from “energy starvation” of the heart as a result. It was also found that the lower the levels of CoQ10, the higher the rate of mortality. Likewise, the administration of CoQ10 in patients with CHF improved their clinical outcomes.
Other CoQ10 Research
There is a tremendous amount of research currently being done on CoQ10. Conditions being researched include Down’s Syndrome, Huntington’s Disease, migraines, metabolic disorders, neuromuscular diseases, cancer, diabetes, semen quality and sperm count, and ALS. Although they have not found cures for these diseases by treating with CoQ10, many studies are finding that patients with these conditions have low CoQ10 levels.
Safety and CoQ10
Numerous studies have been done to date regarding the safety of taking CoQ10. There have been no reported cases of harmful drug interaction or reports of toxicity. Likewise, it is believed to safe for long-term use by most people.
People taking warfarin should be aware that it may be made less effective by taking CoQ10 supplements. Additionally, pregnant women are advised to avoid taking any CoQ10 supplements as there have been studies which show a correlation between elevated CoQ10 levels and contractions of the uterus. This is not yet well understood, so it is recommend that pregnant women avoid this supplement as a precaution.
Some side effects may occur in people taking CoQ10 supplements. These include insomnia, increased liver enzymes, rashes, nausea, upper abdominal pain, dizziness, sensitivity to light, irritability, headaches, heartburn, and fatigue. However, no serious side effects have been reported to date.