My latest CoQ10 and longevity supplements deep-dive was triggered by a trip to a nearby pharmacy.
My amazing wife was shopping, and like generations of experienced husbands, I did my bit by keeping well out of the way.
After wandering into the supplement section, perusing the usual vitamins and admiring the marketing of ‘max’, ‘slow release’ and novel combinations, I spotted CoQ10.
This was already on my (long) list of substances to cover here at the Age Well Times. The price was around 4x that of more popular supplements, though not prohibitive. Instead of buying some and giving them a try, I resolved to get stuck into the clinical papers right away. Almost a week later, and I have concluded that this decision saved me the princely sum of £16.50p ($20).
My wife? She found a bargain in the bath products section and was absolutely delighted.
This page gives an overview of CoQ10 and looks at the (admittedly scant) evidence for taking it as a longevity or health supplement.
Coenzyme Q10 and Longevity: An Overview
Coenzyme Q10 sounds exotic.
That is until you see the other name for it – ubiquinone (derived from the word ‘ubiquitous’).
CoQ10 is found in every cell in your body. Its role is in the mitochondria, where it enables the transport of electrons through membranes, and also works as an antioxidant – mopping up stray electrons created during the ATP energy cycle.
Coenzyme Q10 is more concentrated in your major organs.
The heart, liver and kidneys need that extra energy, and are mitochondria (therefore coQ10) rich.
We naturally make CoQ10 inside our cells. And get it through meat, fish, soy, and nuts.
It is involved in multiple chronic conditions, including the following:
- Heart Health
- Insulin regulation
- Brain Health
Some people suffer from deficiencies triggered by their genes. This creates serious conditions called Primary Mitochondrial Disorders – which require medical attention and are outside of the scope of my overview.
As we age, the concentrations of coenzyme Q10 in our cells decrease. This starts at 20 years old, with only 50% of the amount of CoQ10 production available by the time we reach 80. Whether this is a cause of ageing or a by-product of ageing in other pathways is unclear, as is how it affects the amount available in our mitochondria – after all, 80 year olds may use less of it.
Supplementing CoQ10: Does it Reach Our Cells?
The first red flag for me on supplementing CoQ10 was from this paper (abstract).
It shows that only 5% of oral CoQ10 supplements make it as far as the blood plasma. This enzyme is fat soluble – staying in the blood for around 10 hours. Oral supplements show increased CoQ10 in blood, but not on organ tissues.
Note that rodent studies directly feed coQ10 into the gastrointestinal tract.
The good news is that supplementing does not decrease the amount of coenzyme Q10 produced naturally – and so is a net gain. I was unable to find evidence that taking it as a supplement counteracted the naturally decreasing levels from middle-age and beyond.
Coenzyme Q10, Selenium and All-Cause Mortality
A placebo-controlled study which is often cited by websites happy to sell you coenzyme Q10 followed up on older people, 12 years after starting a 4 year trial of giving CoQ10 and selenium together.
443 started the trial, with either the coQ10 / selenium combination or a placebo given for four years. The follow up was a full twelve years after the start of the trial.
There was a significant decrease overall mortality, especially for female participants.
This is a positive result, though selenium has statistically significant effects on chronic diseases in the older population, as well as antioxidant and immune boosting properties. Females have lower measured coenzyme Q10 concentrations with age – which could explain their positive results.
Without further studies separating selenium from coQ10, and tracking the full 12 years of supplement use, it is hard to draw firm conclusions.
What Other Drugs or Supplements Boost Mitochondrial Energy?
CoQ10 is one of many molecules which boost mitochondrial health.
Popular supplements include:
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid
- NAD Precursors (Niacin, NMN, NR)
There are still more molecules used by specialist doctors in the treatment of chronic primary mitochondrial disorders.
The antioxidant properties of CoQ10 are also common to other longevity supplements.
- Vitamin C and E
- Beta Carotene
With the limited evidence of coenzyme Q10 having statistically valid outcomes, could these other substances get better results?
Can You Get CoQ10 from Food?
Call me a fussy eater, but I’m just not a fan of organ meats – that said, once again they are a rich source of healthy enzymes.
Sources of coenzyme Q10 from food are thankfully varied, covering meat, fish, nuts, soy, and vegetables.
Of the meats, beef and pork score highest, with chicken also contains some CoQ10. Pistachio nuts are a rich source as are peanuts. Soy and broccoli are moderate sources.
Longevity and Health Benefits Claimed from Coenzyme Q10 Supplements
There is no shortage of claims about the benefits of CoQ10 for longevity and specific health issues.
My issue is that none are conclusive.
No controlled trial for coQ10 alone has shown statistically significant benefits, and animal studies have used gastric tubes with mega-doses compared to over-the-counter supplements (without even accounting for the low 5% uptake to the blood plasma).
The best result was in the trial covered above that combined selenium with CoQ10 in older people. If there is one trial I’d like to see repeated, with these substances separated, then it is this one.
Those caveats aside, here is a list of the benefits:
- Heart Health: There are papers covering prevention and repair of the heart after a heart-attack which link CoQ10 to tissue recovery.
- Brain Health: Killer diseases of old age including Alzheimer’s, dementia and stroke recovery have been studied in relation to CoQ10. While links are debated, no statistically significant evidence has been published.
- Migraines: A small (not statistically significant) reduction in migraine symptoms has been linked to supplementation in this paper.
- Blood Sugar Regulation / Diabetes: Another area which shows promise, though no statistically significant results. CoQ10 improves insulin sensitivity in pre-diabetic people and those with type 2 diabetes. This article has details.
- UV Sun Damage: Mice treated with sunscreen containing CoQ10 showed significantly lower damage from the UV component of sunlight. Note this is topical, not oral administration.
There are more, with the same tale of ‘promise but no results’ in lung disease and specific cancers. Reducing insulin and muscle energy issues associated with taking Statins is an active area of research.
Given the lack of evidence for specific diseases, it won’t come as any surprise that there is no measurable effect on longevity – at least in rat samples.
Negative Effects of Coenzyme Q10 Supplements
Other than the effect on your wallet, there is an important negative effect to be mindful of.
Warfarin – a popular anticoagulant – is negatively affected by CoQ10. As always, don’t take any supplement without consulting your doctor and discussing drug interactions.
Some minor but noteworthy side effects include the usual nausea, stomach cramps or even diarrhoea.
Wrapping Up: Sorry Boots (and other Pharmacies) I Won’t be Buying CoQ10 Supplements for Longevity Just Yet
This is the third supplement I have done down the rabbit-hole on, and all of them have been a ‘no’.
Other than getting a bit of a neurotic complex about saying no to everything, there is a valuable lesson here.
This is summed up by the acronym DYOR – Do Your Own Research.
Almost all the results on the first page of Google were cheerleading the benefits. All those sites were either selling me supplements directly – or had advertisements for them.
The science is clear: For most people, and most conditions, there are no significant benefits.
For older people (that may lack CoQ10), supplements don’t reach the organs in large quantities and make little difference at the doses sold.
And for the unfortunate few with primary mitochondrial disorders, their problems are far more serious than an over-the-counter supplement will ever resolve. Specialist medical attention is needed.
If you enjoyed this CoQ10 and longevity deep-dive, come and join me over on Twitter @markawt – see you there!
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