Written by Madeleine Bailey on December 10, 2018 Reviewed by Fiona Hunter on January 04, 2018
What is co-enzyme Q10 and what does it do?Nicknamed ‘nature’s spark plug’, co-enzyme Q10 (co-Q10) is a compound found in every cell in the body, and in particularly high concentrations in the heart, liver and lungs.1 It’s found in one part of the cell called the mitochondria, often dubbed the ‘powerhouse’ because it helps break down food into energy for the body to use.2 Our co-Q10 levels naturally fall as we get older and it’s also been found to be lower in people with certain conditions, such as heart disease.3 We manufacture most co-Q10 in our liver but it’s also found in small quantities in a wide range of foods.4,5
Function of co-enzyme Q10
What does co-enzyme Q10 do in the body?Co-Q10 is involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an enzyme that provides energy for all the vital processes happening within our body’s cells.6 The heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and skeletal muscles all have high levels of co-Q10, because they’re organs and tissues that need a lot of energy.7 Some studies suggest that co-Q10 may help protect our cells from free-radical damage (oxidation), but more research is needed to confirm these results.8,9
How much co-enzyme Q10 do I need?Because co-Q10 is neither a vitamin nor a mineral, there’s no official reference nutrient intake (RNI). Supplements can range from 50mg to 200mg, while we tend to consume 3–5mg through our daily diet.10
Do children need co-enzyme Q10?Levels of co-Q10 decrease as we get older, so children naturally have higher levels than adults.11
Co-enzyme Q10 foods
Which foods are the best sources of co-enzyme Q10?Co-Q10 is found in many foods. The best animal-based sources include:12
- rainbow trout
- rapeseed oil
- sesame seeds
Co-enzyme Q10 deficiency
What are the symptoms of co-enzyme Q10 deficiency?Levels of co-Q10 gradually reduce with age, although this isn’t the same as a deficiency. Lower levels are also linked to the use of statins – cholesterol-lowering drugs – as well as cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.14 It’s not clear whether low levels of co-Q10 are a result of, or the trigger for, these conditions.15 Vegetarians or vegans may also have low levels of co-Q10 as the richest sources are mainly meat, fish and poultry.16 A true co-Q10 deficiency is incredibly rare and most likely caused by genetic problems that mean the body cannot produce the proteins needed to help process co-enzyme Q10.17
What happens if I consume too much co-enzyme Q10?No serious side-effects of co-Q10 have been reported, but mild side-effects include insomnia and digestive problems. If you’re taking blood-thinning medication such as warfarin or insulin for diabetes, it’s best avoided.18
Co-enzyme Q10 supplements
When should I take co-enzyme Q10 supplements?It’s still not clear exactly who would benefit from taking a co-Q10 supplement, but you could choose to as part of a healthy lifestyle. Some migraineurs have reported benefits from taking co-Q10, while research shows it may also help the appearance of wrinkles.19
If you are vegetarian, vegan or don’t eat a lot of meat, you could also consider a supplement.There are two types of co-Q10 supplements – ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Your body is most able to absorb the ubiquinol form. As it’s fat-soluble, your body is able to absorb it up to three times faster if you take it with food.20
Should children take a co-enzyme Q10 supplement?
As children naturally produce more co-Q10 than adults, they shouldn’t need a supplement unless they have a diagnosed deficiency.
Should women take a co-enzyme Q10 supplement during pregnancy?Co-Q10 hasn’t been tested for safety during pregnancy and breast-feeding, so it’s best avoided.21
What are the potential benefits of co-enzyme Q10?A 2014 study of 420 people with heart failure found those taking 100mg of co-Q10 every day for two years improved their symptoms and reduced their risk of heart attacks (including fatal attacks) compared with those taking a placebo. Both groups continued to take their medication during the study.22 A major review of evidence in 2007 concluded that co-Q10 could help lower blood pressure ‘without significant side effects’. 23 If you’re on medication for high-blood pressure (or any other medication), talk to your GP before taking co-Q10. A 2005 trial by the University of Zurich found that taking 300mg of co-Q10 daily for three months reduced the frequency and duration of migraines, as well as symptoms of nausea.24 Co-Q10 could also help protect skin from the signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity. A 2017 Japanese study found that people taking 30mg of co-Q10 every day for six weeks had ‘significantly improved’ wrinkles and better skin texture.25 Shop Supplements Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
Sources1. Healthline. 9 Benefits of Coenzyme Q10.
2. As above3. Garrido-Maraver J, et al. Clinical Applications of Co-enzyme Q10 4. Patient.info. CoenzymeQ10
5. As Source 16. News Medical. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Function in Cells
7. As Source 1
8. As Source 4
13. As above
14. As Source 3
15. As Source 1
16. As Source 12
19. As Sources 24 and 26
20. As Source 1
21. As Source 11