Let’s face it: life can be exhausting. There is always a looming deadline at work, another after school activity to pick up your kid from, and another attention-needy outfit worn by Miley Cyrus you have to look at. If you’re an athlete, you might understandably be exhausted from your fifth consecutive day of training just two days before your big game or race.
To keep up with the demands of work and life, you might ask yourself: Where can I get another boost of energy to make it through the week? Is there some pill out there that doesn’t contain caffeine I can use to fight fatigue?
Recently, manufacturers have hailed Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) supplements as an effective tool to boost energy and speed recovery. But are any of these claims backed up by credible research? The nerds at InsideTracker got you covered, and while we cannot discuss why Miley Cyrus does what she does, we can shed light on how CoQ10 impacts your wellness and fitness.
What is CoQ10 and what does it do?
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also known as “ubiquinone”, is a molecule found in nearly every cell in the body. It is fat-soluble, meaning that it dissolves in fats but not water. CoQ10 stimulates the cell’s powerhouse, an organelle called the mitochondria, to produce more energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). More specifically, it speeds up the process called the electron transport chain which produces 95% of the cell’s ATP. 1 By doing this, it helps the body use food more efficiently for energy. Additionally, CoQ10 serves as an antioxidant in both the mitochondria and cell membranes by preventing the degradation of these cellular parts.
CoQ10 was discovered in 1957 when researcher Dr. Frederick Crane of Wisconsin isolated it from mitochondria located in cow heart.2 The following year, Professor Morton in England isolated the same compound from liver cells in vitamin A deficient rats. He referred to it as ubiquinone- a play on the words ubiquitous and quinone (the chemical class CoQ10 belongs to). 3 Because of its importance to producing energy and preventing aging, it has been found in nearly every cell in the body.
How do we naturally get CoQ10?
We need to consume roughly 30-100mg per day to supplement what is naturally made in our bodies from the amino acid tyrosine. 4 CoQ10 is found readily in our foods. Interestingly, the best source of CoQ10 is reindeer heart, but it is also plentiful in foods easily obtained in the local grocery store such as beef, pork, and chicken. 4 Meat is the best source of CoQ10 and, because it is integrally involved in energy production in cells, it is the most concentrated in cells of high-energy organs such as the heart and liver, and to a lesser extent skeletal muscle. Fish also contain CoQ10 with sardines, herring and mackerel meat topping the list with bonus points for consuming the heart.5 Nuts and oils also contain a substantial amount with extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, peanuts, and sesame seeds topping the list. 4 Dairy, eggs, grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables are relatively poor sources.4 Researchers estimate that frying foods also appears to destroy up to 30% of the CoQ10 present.6
What are CoQ10 supplements useful for?
Getting CoQ10 from our diets is important: it increases energy production and it prevents degradation of cell structures. So, does supplementation confer any clinical benefits? In 1972, Italian scientist Dr. Gian Paolo Littarru and Professor Karl Folkers documented a deficiency associated with human heart disease. 7 Subsequently, researchers showed through nine placebo-controlled, randomized studies in five countries that CoQ10 supplementation can be used to manage symptoms associated with heart disease. 8, 9, 10
- Post myocardial infarction health (the aftermath of a heart attack)
- Peyronie’s disese
- Heart Failure
- Prader-Willi syndrome
Most of these conditions is strongly associated with low levels of CoQ10 in body cells. Similarly, preliminary but promising research suggests that CoQ10 may also help with the following:
- Managing symptoms of diabetes
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Increasing sperm motility and therefore improving male fertility
- Improving immune system function in people with HIV/AIDS
- A part of a multi-pronged treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
- Enhancing exercise performance in people suffering from angina
If you have one of these clinical conditions and are interested in using CoQ10, please consult your doctor, dietitian, and or health care provider. They can provide you more insight into whether or not it CoQ10 might be beneficial to your health.
Recently, researchers have investigated how CoQ10 can be utilized to optimize your biomarkers, maintain health and wellness, and boost athletic performance. Does supplementation have any actual benefits to someone interested in optimizing health and maximizing fitness? Below, we evaluate all the research and give you the key takeaways you need to know about CoQ10.
Recent Research on Creatine Kinase and Recovery
In a study from earlier this year from Kan et. al, researchers in Iran recruited 18 male middle-distance runners and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group of nine was asked to consume 5 mg/kg/day of coenzyme Q10. The second group of nine consumed 5 mg/kg/day of dextrose and served as the placebo. Both groups of subjects were asked to consume their supplements for 1 day and then perform a running regimen where they ran 3000 meters. This was referred to as the “acute phase”. Then, they were asked to consume supplements for 14-days before repeating the running protocol. This was referred to as the “short-term phase.” Blood samples were extracted from subjects in four different stages of exercise: one hour before exercise for both the acute and short-term phases and 18-24 hours after each phase. These samples were assessed for a marker of inflammation called creatine kinase (CK) measured by InsideTracker. They were also assessed for other markers of inflammation such as serum interleukin (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha).
When assessing the results, the scientists noted that creatine kinase at baseline was identical in both the acute and short-term phases in both the CoQ10 and placebo groups. However, after the short-term supplementation phase, both groups had different levels of CK after 24 hours of running. The group that took the placebo had creatine kinase (CK) levels of 274.5 IU/L while the CoQ10 group had CK levels of 250.1 IU/L after supplementation. 11 These differences were notable and significant according to the authors. 11 This suggests that short-term supplementation of CoQ10 may help control inflammation and fatigue following intense exercise.
The findings of this cutting-edge study are in line with one from 2008. Japanese scientists recruited 18 male students- all of whom were elite Japanese kendo athletes- and randomly assigned them one of two groups in a double-blind fashion. The first group of 10 subjects took 300 mg of CoQ10 per day for 20 days while the second group of 8 subjects took 300 mg of placebo for 20 days. Fourteen days into the supplementation, all subjects were asked to kendo for 5.5 hours per day for the final six consecutive days of the experimental period. Blood samples were extracted two weeks prior to the training period. Then, blood samples were obtained 1 day, 3 days, and 5 days into the training period. Finally, scientists collected blood samples two weeks after the training’s conclusion. Researchers measured markers of inflammation and oxidative stress including creatine kinase and white blood cell count.
When assessing the results, the researchers noted that both groups had similar levels of creatine kinase in their blood before and after training. However, during the 3rd and 5th days of the intense kendo training, there was substantial variation in creatine kinase activity. On day three of training, the placebo group had a serum CK activity level of 1400 IU/L while the CoQ10 group had a CK activity level of about 750 IU/L- almost half as much. 12 On day five of training, the placebo group had a serum CK activity level of 1450 IU/L while the CoQ10 group had a CK activity level of about 900 IU/L. 12 This suggests that CoQ10 may be best used during intense training periods, as it lowers CK levels significantly. As a result of these findings, the authors of the study concluded that “CoQ10 supplementation reduced exercise-induced muscular injury in athletes.” 12
Another double-blind study from earlier this year seems to have conflicting results. In their study, 32 young kendo athletes were assigned to supplement with 600 mg of placebo or CoQ10 daily for 11 days. Then, one week after completing supplementation, they were asked to participate in a 4 day intensive kendo training camp. Blood samples were collected at three points: one week prior to training camp, one day before training camp, and then after the completion of the training camp. During the camp, researchers discovered that CK concentrations increased considerably in both groups during the camp.13 However, there were no significant differences in CK between the CoQ10 and the placebo group after the camp was over. 13
It is important to put these findings in context. While the first two studies had subjects take supplements during their training sessions, subjects in this study stopped taking CoQ10 supplements for a full week before any training. Thus, after the 4-day training program, they had no measurable differences with the placebo group.
Key Takeaways: Few randomized controlled studies have examined the role that CoQ10 has on the indicator of fatigue, creatine kinase (CK). Two promising studies with small sample sizes show that it might be an effective tool in managing fatigue as evidenced by lower levels of CK during intense exercise and training. Another study suggests that these effects are only present while you are taking CoQ10 supplements. However, more rigorous research needs to be done in this area to show the relationship between CK and CoQ10.
Recommendations: If you are undergoing a strenuous athletic regimen, consider supplementing with CoQ10 at about 5 mg/kg/day. Monitor the effects it has on your symptoms of overtraining and levels of CK using InsideTracker to see if it has an impact on you.
CoQ10 and CRP- Is there a Connection?
Provided that CoQ10 supplementation lowers levels of CK, how does it affect another key marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein (CRP)? CRP is a ring-shaped protein in the immune system produced by the liver that cleans up dead or injured cells. It is released into the bloodstream a few hours after an inflammatory response resulting from infection by a foreign cell or tissue injury. Many studies show that prolonged, elevated levels of CRP are strongly associated with depression, many cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. 14, 15 A lot of research also shows that strenuous exercise without proper recovery can lead to cell injury and increased CRP production. 16 CRP levels are best measured through a high-sensitivity CRP test abbreviated as hs-CRP. Because hs-CRP is such a useful indicator of overall wellness, we have included it in our InnerAge and Ultimate Panels.
In the 2015 study by Kan et. al, researchers examined CRP levels in addition to CK. When assessing the results, the scientists noted that CRP concentration 24 hours after the 3000 meter spring run was identical in the acute (1 day) supplementations phase in both the CoQ10 and placebo groups. However, after the short-term supplementation phase lasting 14 days, both groups had statistically different levels of CRP 24 hours after running 3000 meters. The group that took the placebo had CRP levels of 4.97 mg/ml while the subjects that took the CoQ10 supplements had an hs-CRP concentration of 4.24 mg/ml. 11 The researchers attributed CoQ10’s CRP-lowering effects to the fact that, as an antioxidant, CoQ10 reduced oxidative stress and lowers the presence of compounds called “hydroxyl radicals” that stimulate degradation of cells.
As a result of these findings, the scientists stated that “we believe a higher dose of CoQ10 supplements (>5mg/kg/d) might provide sustainable anti-inflammatory in middle-distance runners.” 11 However, they emphasized that “further study is needed to demonstrate whether a high dose of CoQ10 correlates with health benefits.” 11
Another study conducted in 2011 by Lee et. al, however, found little association between CoQ10 supplementation and CRP levels. In it, researchers assessed the impact of CoQ10 supplementation on inflammatory markers and fatigue in obese subjects that weren’t exercising. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, researchers recruited 51 overweight subjects with an average BMI of 27.4 kg/m2 and average age of 41.3 years. The first 26 subjects were instructed to take 200 mg of CoQ10 supplement per day for 12 weeks. The second group of 25 consumed 200 mg of placebo per day for 12 weeks. Researchers assessed C-reactive protein and symptoms of fatigue using a fatigue severity scale (FSS) questionnaire.
Researchers noted that CoQ10 did not significantly alter levels of CRP. They observed that the mean FSS score decreased significantly from 40.1 to 33.1 in the group that took CoQ10 supplements. However, when compared to the change in FSS in the placebo group, there wasn’t a statistical difference. As a result of these collective findings, the researchers stated that “we found no evidence that coenzyme Q(10) affects fatigue index, arterial stiffness, metabolic parameters, or inflammatory markers.” 17
Key Takeaways: The association between CoQ10 supplementation and CRP is mixed. One study on middle-distance runners indicates that CoQ10 improves lower CRP. However, another study on obese, unfit subjects suggests that CoQ10 does not affect fatigue or CRP.
Recommendations: If you have elevated CRP due to exercise-related fatigue or sedentary lifestyle, CoQ10 is unlikely to work. Consider checking out our other blogs on CRP for recommendations, such as “How Looking Inside Helps you Deal with Overtraining.” Additionally, use your InsideTracker results to look at proper interventions based on your specific demographics.
CoQ10 and Cholesterol: Is there a Connection?
Some people claim that CoQ10 can help you lower cholesterol. But what does the research say?
Apparently, there isn’t much of a relationship. In the study by Lee et. al, researchers also measured cholesterol and observed no significant decrease before or after the CoQ10 supplement intervention in obese but otherwise health subjects. 17 One study observed a decrease in cholesterol in subjects after providing them with 100 mg of CoQ10 for 12 weeks.18 However, these subjects all had fibromyalgia and these findings cannot be applied to the general population.
A lot of research has investigated the impact of CoQ10 on subjects taking drugs called statins. Statins are prescribed by doctors and nurse practitioners to help optimize lipids, such as triglycerides and forms of cholesterol, in people whose lipids are out of whack. Most people respond well to them. However, they sometimes cause unintended side-effects such as muscle pain. Statins are associated with lower levels of CoQ10, and some scientists have theorized that this leads to the unpleasant symptoms.19
In a 2012 study, 28 patients (18 women and 10 men) with an average age of 60.6 year were recruited. They were all taking statins at the time as prescribed by their doctors. The researchers of the study then asked the subjects to take CoQ10 supplements daily for six months. Before and after the intervention, scientists assessed muscle pain and weakness using a one to ten scale in which patients expressed their degree of inconvenience.
After the intervention, pain decreased by an average of 53.8% and muscle weakness decreased by an average of 44.4% as expressed in the scale. 20 The CoQ10 levels increased by more than 194%. 20 As a result of these promising findings, the researchers stated “after a six-month administration of coenzyme Q10, muscle pain and sensitivity statistically significantly decreased.” 20 It is important to put these findings in context, however. Researchers writing a recent meta-analysis of CoQ10 supplements emphasized the need for larger, well-designed studies in determining its effects on muscle-related fatigue resulting from statins. 21 Thus, it is important to consult with your doctor about taking CoQ10 supplements if you experience muscle fatigue.
Key Takeaways: Taking CoQ10 in supplement form does not seem to affect cholesterol. One study suggests that CoQ10 may help reduce muscle fatigue associated with statins.
Recommendations: If you have high cholesterol, use a more research-proven intervention such as consuming avocado and salmon or using statins with your doctor’s guidance. If you are taking statins and have muscle-related side-effects, consult with your doctor about taking CoQ10 or using another intervention.
The Verdict on CoQ10
Conezyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a common molecule in the human body that plays a key role in generating energy and preventing cellular degradation. Research indicates that CoQ10 can be used to manage symptoms associated with a host of serious clinical complications including post heart attack and depression. This is primarily because these conditions are associated with low levels of CoQ10
Before using CoQ10 to help manage these serious conditions, you should talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner as well as a specialist and dietitian. The research on how CoQ10 impacts wellness and athletic performance is fairly weak. Two good studies indicate that it may reduce exercise-related fatigue as indicated by lower levels of creatine kinase. Studies investigating the association between CoQ10 and C-reactive protein are conflicting. Additionally, CoQ10 is unlikely to affect cholesterol levels.
CoQ10 is deemed as safe for human consumption by the FDA for adults older than 18 years. Some people have reported subjective improvements in energy and fatigue after using it. If you are interested in seeing how it impacts your body, feel free to find a trusted brand and see how it impacts your overall wellness and biomarkers using InsideTracker. Remember to consult with a physician to get an informed opinion.*
Can your body benefit from CoQ10? Find out what your internal age REALLY is, with InnerAge!
Some other blog posts we think you'll love:
- Tired of Being Tired: How I Optimized My Iron Levels
- Getting Back on Track: Laura Ingalls' InsideTracker-Fueled Journey Back to Holistic Health
- Avoiding The Crash: How Monitoring Iron Levels Can Save Your Season
- Stress Fractures: The Relationship Between Biochemistry, Nutritional Screening and Biomechanics
* Editors Note: Coenzyme Q10 us not suggested by our current recommendation engine due to the research not being strong enough for us to consider it an intervention at this time. We do realize that users of InsideTracker and readers of the blog are interested in this supplement.
List of References
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18. Miyamae, Takako, et al. "Increased oxidative stress and coenzyme Q10 deficiency in juvenile fibromyalgia: amelioration of hypercholesterolemia and fatigue by ubiquinol-10 supplementation." Redox Report 18.1 (2013): 12-19.
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