09 February 2007

Coenzyme Q10 - is it important for health?

Recently, a number of papers have been published on a compound called Coenzyme Q10, which indicates that this relatively unknown compound may play a role in health and disease.


Nutrition is a fascinating science that is continually evolving. Recently a number of papers have been published on a compound called Coenzyme Q10, which indicates that this relatively unknown compound may play a role in health and disease.

What is Coenzyme Q10?
Coenzyme Q10 belongs to a group of compounds called ubiquinones. The name of this group is derived from the same root as the term ‘ubiquitous’ which means ‘everywhere’. We can, therefore, deduce that ubiquinones occur commonly in human, animal and plant tissues.

What do ubiquinones do?
The function of ubiquinones, including Coenzyme Q10 is to act as “essential components of the mitochondrial electron transport chain”. This basically means that these compounds act as electron carriers in cells to ensure that energy is generated and released for a multitude of processes that occur in our bodies. In addition, the ubiquinones and Coenzyme Q10 are also fat-soluble antioxidants that act in similar fashion to vitamin E.

Antioxidants are powerful protective compounds that prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. The latter are formed in the human body by various processes and exposure to pollutants, cigarette smoke, and fat-rich diets. Free radicals are implicated in tissue damage that leads to degenerative diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Nature has, however, provided us with an arsenal of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, selenium, bioflavonoids and Coenzyme Q10 to neutralise the harmful effects of free radicals and protect us against degenerative diseases.

Where do we find ubiquinones?
Ubiquinones and Coenzyme Q10 are manufactured in the human body and are found in the following foods:

  • fish oils
  • nuts
  • fish
  • meat
  • vegetables

Research studies
Although research studies are still in the early stages, there is some evidence that supplementing the diet with Coenzyme Q10 can have a beneficial effect on the following conditions:

  • Heart disease, including cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure
  • Diabetes, by improving the function of blood vessels
  • Muscle function in the elderly
  • Hypertension
  • Early deterioration in Parkinson’s Disease
  • Serious kidney disease
  • Fibromyalgia

Because Coenzyme Q is involved with energy release in body cells, some research is also being done to determine if it can enhance athletic performance.

Boosting Coenzyme Q10 intake
At present, few South African supplements contain Coenzyme Q10, and you may have to ask your pharmacist to check products imported from countries such as the USA to see if they contain Coenzyme Q10.

However, the ubiquinones, including Coenzyme Q10, are known to occur ‘everywhere’, so by increasing your intake of fresh vegetables, fish, especially fatty fish and nuts, you can ensure that you are getting plenty of this nutrient. Fish oils, such as cod liver oil and salmon oil are also potential sources. It is important to keep in mind that cod liver oil is very rich in vitamins A and D, which when taken in excess, can cause a variety of negative effects. So if you take cod liver oil, then you should stick to the label instructions. Don’t start taking mega doses of cod liver oil, or you may develop these negative side-effects instead of improving your health.

A Varied Diet
It is always exciting to learn about a ‘new’ nutrient that has the potential to improve our health and wellbeing. Research will undoubtedly expand our knowledge of Coenzyme Q10 and pinpoint new areas where this ubiquinone plays an important role.

An important lesson we can learn from these new findings about Coenzyme Q10, is that we need to eat a varied diet that contains foods from all the food groups: cereals and grains; fruit and vegetables; meat, fish, eggs; legumes and nuts; milk and dairy products; fats and oils.

Nutrition research is constantly discovering new factors and nutrients in our foods. It is, therefore, essential to eat as varied a diet as possible to ensure that we ingest all the known and unknown nutrients. Unbalanced diets and diets that concentrate on only one or two food groups are potentially harmful, because they may deprive us of nutrients that we don’t even know about. So be a true omnivore and eat a varied diet!

(Dr I V van Heerden, registered dietician)

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