It’s the latest miracle supplement, but does CoQ10 live up to the hype? Dietitian and exercise physiologist Gabrielle Maston reports.
There’s no more adored or widely used supplement in the world of health and fitness right now than CoQ10.
It’s being used to treat health conditions from heart failure and infertility to ageing and hypertension. And in fitness, enthusiasts have been using it in the hope that it will improve their performance in endurance-based sports, as CoQ10 is believed to improve aerobic capacity.
What’s there not to like? But before you head down to the supplement store, let’s explore the science.
CoQ10 is an enzyme that occurs naturally in the human body, produced by almost all human cells. Its role is to aid the mitochondria in cells to make energy. Its secondary function is to act as an antioxidant for the cell walls of the mitochondria.
The highest concentrations of CoQ10 are found in your heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys. Deficiency levels and maximum toxic doses are unknown, so presumably if you’re healthy, your body can regulate how much CoQ10 it needs and produces it accordingly.
In certain conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart failure, HIV/AIDS and muscular dystrophy, in the elderly or in people who use statin medications to lower their cholesterol, CoQ10 levels are typically lower than average.
This has led people to believe that supplementation of CoQ10 may be beneficial in the treatment of most of these conditions. But the scientific evidence is lacking and, in some cases, conflicting — except for the case of CoQ10 supplementation in heart failure. Scientific trials have used between 100-200mg daily to show that CoQ10 may be used to slow heart disease progression by slightly improving heart function and acting as an anti-inflammatory.
The most pervasive urban legend regarding CoQ10 is its ability to reduce muscle soreness in people who take statins. But when researchers conducted a systematic review, the results were inconclusive, indicating that CoQ10 supplementation has little to no benefit to reducing muscle soreness caused by statins.
In sports, endurance athletes swear by CoQ10 and its ability to improve aerobic endurance performance. But when researchers conducted trials in elite athletes, the CoQ10 group’s performance improved just as much as the placebo group. This may indicate that when you believe you’re taking something that works, improvement often follows anyway.
In one trial involving a group of male cyclists, supplementation with CoQ10 did increase the concentration levels of CoQ10 in the blood, but this did not result in an improved performance. This same outcome was also produced by another study that looked at cyclists and triathletes.
Ultimately, CoQ10 is one of the most widely used supplements with the least amount of evidence to support its use. If you still believe that CoQ10 works for you, that’s OK — it’s not harmful to your health if you take it. The placebo effect can sometimes be more powerful than the real thing.