Coenzyme Q10 Is Good for More Than Just Your Heart
Coenzyme Q10 Slows Parkinson's Disease
This heart-healthy antioxidant may be good for brain health
By Aaron W. Jensen, Ph.D.
o you ever feel completely spent - totally exhausted
because you've been going nonstop for days? You need a good long rest to allow
yourself to recover and become reenergized. However, not all of yourself gets a
rest. Think about it - your heart never stops beating (a good thing, if you want
to stay alive), and your brain too has to keep on working even while you're
Your heart is a true workhorse. Every second of your life,
this unique muscle (about the size of your clenched fist) contracts and supplies
all the tissues of your body with nutrient-rich, life-preserving blood. Let's
do some math: about 60 contractions per minute x 60 minutes per hour x 24 hours
per day = 86,400 contractions per day. No doubt about it, that's a lot of
work! And because your heart works constantly, it needs a constant energy
A deficiency of CoQ10 in the
mitochondria of Parkinson's
patients is related to the disease
process; supplementation may
The intense work performed by your brain is perhaps more
difficult to appreciate. This organ, which weighs about 3 pounds (about 1.5% of
your body weight), consumes about 20% of your body's oxygen intake. Oxygen is
required for cellular respiration - the process in the brain (as well as the
rest of the body) that converts glucose from your food into usable chemical
energy. Why does your brain require so much energy? Because it is constantly
controlling both voluntary and involuntary functions throughout the rest of your
body, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, month after month, year in and year out.
Coenzyme Q10 Is Vital for Energy
One important molecule that allows these organs to work
nonstop is coenzyme Q10 (often abbreviated CoQ10). This compound is found in
every cell of your body - in the tiny organelles called mitochondria - and it
participates in the production of cellular energy. The most active cells in the
body (such as those of the brain and the heart) contain the most mitochondria,
which means that they need the most CoQ10 to power them. Without adequate CoQ10,
these hard-working organs may not perform optimally. This has been well
documented for heart function, and recent research has demonstrated that CoQ10
is good for brain health too - especially in slowing the progression of at least
one of the brain diseases associated with aging.
Parkinson's Disease Impairs Bodily Movement
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that
afflicts about 1% of American adults over the age of 65. The disease results
from a loss of specific motor-control neurons (nerve cells), called dopaminergic
neurons, from discrete locations in the brain. Neural signals that govern muscle
movement and function are compromised, causing a breakdown in those circuits.
The mind, however, remains unaffected, so the victims are able to think as
clearly as ever and are well aware of their condition. (This contrasts starkly
with Alzheimer's disease, in which the victims basically lose their minds and
seem happily unaware of it).
The visible symptoms of Parkinson's include muscle
tremors (often characterized by a "pill-rolling" movement, so called because
of a constant rubbing of the thumb against the forefinger), slowed movement,
muscular rigidity, and postural disturbance. Little is known about the origin of
the disease, which frustrates effective treatment and makes prevention
CoQ10 Slows the Progression of Parkinson's
The Parkinson Study Group - a consortium of 13 research
institutions throughout the United States - is attempting to identify effective therapies for treating the early signs of
PD. This august group has made great progress and recently published an article
in the Archives of Neurology demonstrating that CoQ10 supplementation slows the
progression of PD in its early stages. That news is especially welcome, as no
other treatment (pharmaceutical or otherwise) had previously been shown to do
this. Hail CoQ10!
|All Brain Diseases Are Not the Same
Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease,
Huntington's disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease (also called amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis, or ALS), are some of the better-known degenerative neuronal
diseases. In each of them, discrete regions of the brain and central nervous
system degenerate and become dysfunctional with time.
The manner in which the brain is wired internally, as well
as its myriad connections to motor neurons, is vastly complex, and slight
alterations within this intricate system can have devastating results. Many
degenerative disorders occur because there is a change in cellular signals used
to communicate between neurons, via molecules called neurotransmitters. Changes
in the function, release, level, or metabolism of these crucial signaling
molecules (of which there are many different types) influence how the brain
performs its many tasks.
In Parkinson's disease, the neurotransmitter dopamine is
depleted, and this interferes with appropriate responses from muscle tissues.
The function of acetylcholine is perturbed in Alzheimer's disease, inhibiting
the essential transfer of information between neurons involved in cognition.
Huntington's disease is characterized by a loss of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA),
a neurotransmitter essential to integrating motor and mental functions. Lou
Gehrig's disease results from altered metabolism of the neurotransmitter
glutamate, which leads to motor-neuron degeneration and loss of motor function.
Clearly, these diseases are different in origin. Describing
their causes simply in terms of changes in neurotransmitters is an
oversimplification, but it helps to illustrate how diseases that afflict the
same organ (the brain) can have very different clinical symptoms.
The researchers recruited 80 patients in the early stages
of PD (early enough that they did not yet require treatment for their
disability) to participate in the study. The patients were randomly assigned to
one of four groups, receiving either placebo or 300 mg, 600 mg, or 1200 mg of
CoQ10 per day; in addition, each group received 1200 IU of vitamin E per day.
The patients' functional decline was monitored over the next 16 months, using
the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS). Included in this testing
system are a mental score, a motor score (for muscle function), and a rating on
activities of daily living (ADL) - a measure of one's ability to perform
routine daily tasks, such as personal hygiene, food preparation, and just
CoQ10 Deficiency May Be Related to Parkinson's
The exciting result of this research is that all three of
the CoQ10 doses decreased the rate of functional decline in the Parkinson's
patients, based on their total UPDRS score, with the greatest effect being
observed at the highest dosage, 1200 mg/day.* The results of all the individual
components of the UPDRS score were more favorable in the CoQ10 groups than in
the control group, and all showed a trend toward decreased functional decline.
The strongest response was found in the ADL test, and it was dose-dependent,
with the highest dose producing the statistically most significant response. The
mental score also showed improvement with increasing dosage.
Although CoQ10 provided significant benefits to the
Parkinson's patients, they were not immediate. After 1 month, the 1200-mg/day
group showed a benefit in the ADL test. It took 4 months of daily treatment,
however, before a clear separation emerged between the 1200-mg/day group and the
control group in the total UPDRS score, and 8 months before such a separation
emerged between the 300- and 600-mg/day groups and the control group. At the end
of the 16-month trial, the change in total UPDRS score was most significant in
the 1200-mg/day group.
"CoQ10 may also protect against
other brain diseases
with aging and the slowdown in
The results of this study support the hypothesis that a
deficiency of CoQ10 in the mitochondria of Parkinson's patients is related to
the disease process and that correcting this deficiency through long-term
supplementation may provide a significant measure of improvement. It should also
be noted that CoQ10 treatment was well tolerated by the patients, although the
incidence of mild adverse events was higher in the treatment groups than in the
Free Radicals - The Price We Pay for Energy
We know that mitochondria are essential for chemical energy
production in the brain (and throughout the body), but there is a price to pay
for this energy. It may surprise you to learn that mitochondria produce huge
quantities of free radicals, those destructive, oxidative molecular species that
are implicated in many degenerative processes, including aging itself. And the
cells that require the most energy, such as neurons in the brain, produce the
most free radicals.
But if free radicals are so harmful, why would our
mitochondria produce them? Let's be clear - this is not something the body
wants to have happen, it's just an inevitable consequence of the chemistry of
cellular energy production (much like the production of noxious carbon monoxide
and nitric oxide as byproducts of gasoline combustion in automobiles).
CoQ10 Is an Important Antioxidant
The way that the body's cells guard against free radical
damage is to amass an arsenal of free radical fighters - molecules called
antioxidants. It happens that CoQ10 is a potent antioxidant, along with four
others that are particularly important for protecting our cells: glutathione,
lipoic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E.* All these compounds play important roles
in attacking and neutralizing dangerous free radicals before they do too much
damage to our cells.
Might CoQ10 play an important role in rejuvenating the
brain and protecting against neuronal degeneration? Professor Lester Packer of
UC Berkeley, a renowned antioxidant researcher, thinks so. He notes in his book
The Antioxidant Miracle that CoQ10 protects brain cells under conditions of
oxidative stress and that "CoQ10 may also protect against other brain diseases
associated with aging and the slowdown in mitochondrial function." The
implication is that CoQ10 may have far-reaching and beneficial effects on brain
CoQ10 Is Good for Your Heart
CoQ10 has been used in Japan to treat congestive heart failure - as an approved drug, no less - since 1974.
Clearly, there is sound scientific evidence to support its use for this disease,
in which the heart pumps much less efficiently than it should, causing an
accumulation of fluid in the lungs and other parts of the body. In addition,
there is nearly 40 years of research supporting the beneficial role of CoQ10 in
cardiomyopathy, a distinct type of heart failure due to an abnormally enlarged
or stiffened heart that is restricted in its ability to pump blood.
The heart-healthy evidence for CoQ10 keeps piling up. Most
recently, research has been published demonstrating that it lowers blood
pressure. In this study, patients with high blood pressure (systolic pressure
between 150 and 170 mm Hg) were administered 60 mg of CoQ10 and 150 IU of
vitamin E twice a day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, the average
reduction in systolic pressure in the CoQ10 treatment group was a significant
25.9 mm Hg. This is an important result, as individuals who are able to lower
their systolic blood pressure are likely to enjoy improved cardiovascular
health, with reduced risks for stroke, heart failure, and overall mortality.
CoQ10 Is Essential for Good Health
Because of its vital role in the electron transport
chain - the biochemical pathway in mitochondria that allows the body's cells
to convert food to energy - coenzyme Q10 is essential for normal cellular
function. Knowing that, it's easy to see why this molecule is essential for
the good health of all our organs. As we age, however, our blood levels of CoQ10
gradually decrease. This may help to explain why the incidences of heart disease
and neuronal degeneration increase as the years tick away. To keep your heart
and mind ticking in sync with the years, coenzyme Q10 may be just the ticket.
- Shults CW, Oakes D, Kieburtz K, et al. Effects of
coenzyme Q10 in early Parkinson disease: evidence of slowing of the functional
decline. Arch Neurol 2002;59:1541-50.
- Packer L, Colman C. The Antioxidant Miracle. John Wiley
& Sons, New York, 1999, pp 92-104.
- Burke BE, Neuenschwander R, Olson RD. Randomized,
double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of coenzyme Q10 in isolated hypertension.
South Med J 2001;94:1112-7.
Dr. Jensen is a cell biologist who has conducted research
in England, Germany, and the United States. He has taught college courses in biology and nutrition and has written
extensively on medical and scientific topics.