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  • Writer's pictureLaura Sesana

CoQ10 Supplements Likely Ineffective

CoQ10 Supplements Likely Ineffective
hitthatswitch, Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON—If you take the popular antioxidant ubiquinone, known as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), you are probably not deriving any benefit from it, according to a McGill University study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ubiquinone is found naturally in all human body cells, and is used by mitochondria to produce energy from oxygen and nutrients. Scientists and nutritionists initially believed that ubiquinone, CoQ10, also functioned as an antioxidant to protect cells against damage caused by free radicals.

Because of its perceived antioxidant properties, CoQ10 is prescribed as an anti-aging supplement as well as to treat a wide variety of illnesses including heart disease, Huntington disease, Parkinson’s disease, migraines and male infertility. According to a market studyby Euromonitor, global sales of CoQ10 increased 180 percent between 2002 and 2007, totaling $772 million in global sales for 2007.

“Our findings show that one of the major anti-aging antioxidant supplements used by people can’t possibly act as previously believed,” saidSiegfried Hekimi, lead author of the study and a professor at McGill’s Department of Biology. “Dietary supplements cost a lot of money to patients throughout the world – money that would be better spent on healthy food. What’s more, the hope for a quick fix makes people less motivated to undertake appropriate lifestyle changes.”

To analyze the effects of ubiquinone, researchers studied a group of mice in which they gradually eliminated ubiquinone and then restored it to normal levels. The results showed that the removal of ubiquinone led to severe sickness and early death in the mice because the substance is crucial in mitochondrial energy production. However, researchers were surprised to find that the mice’s DNA or cell membranes did not exhibit oxidative damage from free radicals.

The study has far-reaching implications for the millions of people who take CoQ10 for its perceived antioxidant properties. CoQ10 is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of any medical condition. Instead, it is loosely regulated as a dietary supplement and federal regulators do not evaluate statements on the label.

Moreover, a 2004 laboratory analysis by ConsumerLab found that several CoQ10 supplements sold did not contain the quantity of CoQ10 identified on the label. More recent studies of dietary supplements on the market have found the same problems.

While casting doubt on the antioxidant properties of ubiquinone, the study did produce valuable insights into the substance’s importance in aiding mitochondria in energy production.

“Many patients are sick because their mitochondria don’t work properly, including because they don’t contain enough ubiquinone,” Hekimi said. “We’ll be using the results of this study to devise ways, and possibly new drugs, to boost ubiquinone levels or help residual ubiquinone to function effectively in defective mitochondria.”

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