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Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements

Supplement 101: Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10, an energy-boosting nutrient that declines with age, is proving to be a wonder supplement for everything from better heart function to inflammation reduction to sky-high energy levels.

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A vitamin-like substance, CoQ10 feeds mitochondria, the energy-generating components of our cells. Our bodies naturally make CoQ10, but levels decline as we get older—just when we need it most. Low levels of the nutrient have been linked to heart disease, brain diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

In studies, CoQ10 supplements improved heart function in people with heart failure; protected the heart against damage from some chemotherapy drugs; reduce inflammation and muscle damage from intense exercise; improved sugar metabolism, blood pressure, brain function, and fertility; and helped relieve chronic fatigue syndrome, gum disease, diabetic neuropathy, and headaches. “Everyone with any type of cardiovascular disease should take coenzyme Q10,” says Julian Whitaker, MD, founder of the Whitaker Wellness Institute Medical Clinic in Newport Beach, Calif. “It’s the single most powerful supplement for strengthening the heart muscle. I also recommend CoQ10 for general health maintenance and disease prevention.” While CoQ10 is found in soybean and canola oils, “it’s most abundant in meat and fish, so supplements are particularly important for vegetarians,” Whitaker adds.

We can get small quantities of CoQ10 from food, but it’s less than 1 mg per serving from most plant foods, amounts too small to be therapeutic.

Coenzyme Q10: A Power Source

Coenzyme Q10 plays a vital part in cell energy as well as heart function. As an antioxidant, it also battles the free radicals that lead to disease and aging. Both types of CoQ10 produced in the body—ubiquinone and the more active ubiquinol—are available in supplements. Whitaker prefers the latter for supplementation, though the type of CoQ10 matters less than taking it with a fatty meal to slow transit through the body and improve absorption.

Use Coenzyme Q10 Right 

Natural levels of coenzyme Q10 decrease with age and in patients with heart conditions or those taking statins (anti-cholesterol drugs). While there’s no official daily value for CoQ10, tests on its use as an antioxidant range from 60 to 150 milligrams per day and up to 200 milligrams as a preventive against heart disease. Julian Whitaker, MD, usually suggests 100 milligrams daily for health maintenance.

Watch Out For…

Side effects may include gastrointestinal upset, but no serious adverse reactions are associated with recommended doses. Consult your health care provider if you take blood thinners, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

Related: Muscle-Building Supplements for Vegans