Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Its only naturalCoenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful antioxidant made naturally by the body but levels are known to decline as we age and when we are ill, for example with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia or cancer; CoQ10 is stored in the mitochondria and plays an important role in energy production and, thus, metabolism. 

Coenzyme Q10 was discovered in 1957 by Dr. Fred Crane from the University of Wisconsin, who isolated it from beef hearts. Ubiquinone is converted in the body to the circulating form, ubiquinol. You can supplement with either version, ubiquinone being the more common, cheaper version.

Coenzyme Q10 and cancer - Getting to the heart of the matter

The name ubiquinone comes from the fact that the compound belongs to a group of substances called quinones, and it is ubiquitous.

Although it is found in the mitochondria of all human cells (1), the highest concentrations are found in the heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas, organs which have the most metabolically active cells. It is also found in large amounts in the cells of the immune system.

The best natural food sources are offal, nuts like peanuts and walnuts, oily fish like mackerel and sardines, and seeds. However it is extremely hard to eat sufficient quantities to replace the shortfall in our bodies as we age - levels are known to drop dramatically in our bodies after the age of 50. 

People with a number of chronic illnesses have lowered levels of CoQ10 in their cells but it is usually stated that it is not known whether it is cause or effect. However, there is research with prostate cancer suggesting only moderate plasma levels of CoQ10 may increase risk. There is also research that suggests that, while CoQ10 may not work well on its own, when combined with EPA from omega 3 Fish oil, the two reduce PSA by 30% or more. Similar research with Tamoxifen in rats with mammary tumours suggests that while CoQ10 does little on its own, when used with Tamoxifen it performed much better, and when niacin and riboflavin were added it performed better still.

It is however widely used as a food supplement in conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), congestive heart failure - where there are randomised clinical trials, diabetes, hypertension,  suggested uses include for angina, chronic fatigue syndrome, congestive heart failure (CHF), diabetes mellitus, muscular dystrophies, statin-induced weaknesses, and doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity. As we will see there is also research suggesting CoQ10 might be helpful as part of a complementary and integrative cancer programme.

CoQ10 also crosses the blood brain barrier.

There is a concern that statins may cause the loss of CoQ10 from the body resulting in muscle, heart and dementia problems.

What is a coenzyme?

A coenzyme is a compound that helps enzymes do their job; and enzmes affect all the biochemical processes in the body making them happen and even regulating their rate. Thus, coenzme Q10 is involved in the mitochondria - the energy producing systems of cells.

Immune system

As a powerful antioxidant, CoQ10 neutralises free radicals and helps protect your DNA from damage. The National Cancer Institute in America quotes studies that show it helps the body better resist cancer (2). It also works with vitamin E to protect cell membranes (and particularly immune cell membranes) from free radical attack, thus boosting the immune system. It also seems to activate macrophages, the seek-and-destroy cells of the immune system. In research by Dr. Annelie Brauner of the Karolinska Institure in Sweden, 2 x 100 mg of CoQ10 supplementation per day for 12 weeks resulted in greater NK activity in the immune system increasing the ability to deal with viruses, plus a reduction in inflammatory hBD2 peptides.

CoQ10 and age

A deficiency of CoQ10 has been linked in research with fatigue, muscle aches, premature aging and even DNA damage.

There are several studies in mice showing that daily supplementation with CoQ10 reduces senescence (3). CoQ10 seems to help because of its activation of mitochondria and through increasing gene expression (4). There is a placebo-controlled 4-year clinical study on humans where the researchers used both selenium and CoQ10 and found that the group taking the two supplements spent less days in hospital and had an improved, health-related quality of life (5). The follow up study after 10 years showed the group taking both supplements had a far lower cardiovascular mortality. 

Finally, there is a 2019 meta-analysis of randomised and clinical studies showing that even low daily doses of CoQ10 improves blood glucose and HbA1c levels (6).

CoQ10, heart disease and brain function

Interest grew in the 70s when researchers found patients with congestive heart failure had less CoQ1O in their hearts. They also found CoQ1O could improve heart function. In Japan, today, CoQ1O is essential treatment for cardiovascular disease.

In October 2002 at the University of California, San Diego, researchers found that large doses of C0Q1O in conjunction with vitamin E slowed the progress of Parkinson's disease significantly.

CoQ1O can cross the blood brain barrier and further studies have shown a protective role in delaying dementia.

Coenzyme Q10 and cancer

Studies with CoQ10 and cancer started in the Sixties when it was shown that some patients with cancer were deficient in CoQ10.There are numerous small clinical studies on CoQ10 and its effects with cancer and, in America, The National Institute of Cancer is now proposing major research. Three studies on breast cancer showed clinical benefit - for example: Basic Clinical Toxicology 2007, June;100 (6): 387-91). However, there are questions over the numbers of patients and the controls used. To quote the NCI:

* In a study of coenzyme Q10 in 32 breast cancer patients, it was reported that some signs and symptoms of cancer went away in 6 patients. Details were given for only 3 of the 6 patients. The researchers also reported that all the patients in the study used less pain  medicine, had improved quality of life, and did not lose weight during treatment.

* In another study led by the same researchers, 3 breast cancer patients were given high-dose coenzyme Q10 and followed for 3 to 5 years. The study reported that one patient had complete remission of cancer that had spread to the liver, another had remission of cancer that had spread to the chest wall, and the third had no breast cancer found after surgery.

Similar metastases-controlling benefits have been shown with melanoma patients and there is a little evidence that CoQ1O may help in the treatment of brain tumours.

With melanoma, for example, in a post-surgical 2007 clinical trial using alpha-interferon and CoQ10 with melanoma patients, the group taking the CoQ10 had a 10-fold lower risk of metastases than the placebo group overall, with a 13-fold lower risk in advanced cases of melanoma (7).

The NCI research proposal also confirms that animal studies have in fact shown that CoQ10 can fight certain forms of cancer, and laboratory and animal studies have shown CoQ10 can stop certain cancer cells growing.

A series of studies by the Lennard M Miller School of Medicine in Miami showed what the real issue may be with Q10. Cancer cells don't die,  but by loading the plasma with CoQ10, this seems to restore apoptic potential by suppressing the bcl-2 gene; this has no effect on healthy cells. The studies have now all been removed from the Miami Website! 

Interestingly, the National Cancer Institute web page quotes research showing that CoQ10 helps the heart resist the damaging side-effects of the cancer drug doxorubicin.

Recent studies have started to suggest exactly how CoQ10 might work -

        * by strengthening the immune system to prevent or fight cancer,

        * by reducing inflammation in the tissues and thus reducing initial causation, or longer-term metastases

        * by shutting down vascular growth factors needed to support tumours 

        * by restoring the damaged metabolic activity of the mitochondria due to lowered CoQ10 levels

CoQ10 levels lowered in cancer mitochondria

CoQ10 is essential for the effective working of mitochondria, or power stations, inside the cell and as such it is found in all human, animal and plant cells. The more energetic the tissue (heart, muscle, brain) the more mitochondria present.

CoQ10 is involved in the synthesis of ATP, the powering fuel of the mitochondria. However, in cancer, the mitochondria go "wrong" and shut down leaving energy production to the cytoplasm. Here glucose is burned in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically) with a completely different energy-producing system. One theory is that CoQ10 somehow protects the mitochondria from failure. The involvement with the body's energy systems has shown that supplementation has a positive effect with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Early research was carried out by Dr. Karl Folkers, who became interested when his next-door neighbour who had terminal metastatic lung cancer, started taking CoQ1O and had a complete remission.

Open quotesCancer patients do seem to have low levels of CoQ1O in their blood Close quotes

Cancer patients (especially patients with myeloma, lymphoma, breast, prostate, lung, colon, kidney and pancreatic cancer) do seem to have low levels of CoQ10 in their blood (Lockwood 1994) and various claims for its effectiveness in cancer treatment have been made.

For example:

1. "The action of CoQ10 on the immune system is profound. It promotes bioenergetic processes in human immune cells" (Bliznakov).

2. "CoQ10 is a non-toxic natural substance that reduces the damage done to the heart by chemotherapy agent Adviamycin and may increase anti-tumour activity. CoQ10 protects the liver from the toxic effects of many chemotherapy drugs" (Wail).

3. "Supplementation with CoQ10 can cause completed regression of tumours in advanced breast cancer, including one patient with metastases to her liver". (Diamond).

However there is a warning. So "effective" is CoQ1O that there is a real warning that it should not be used during radiotherapy (Lund). Apparently, it can prevent the full action of radiotherapy. (O'Brien).

So, CoQ10 may work in the mitochondria, with the immune system, and/or as an antioxidant. Research suggests it may help minimise some negative effects of chemotherapy especially on the heart, and it may help in brain tumours.

Open quotesIt helps, but does not seem to work on its ownClose quotes

The National Cancer Institute also report that it seems to offer benefits as an adjuvant therapy (i.e. a therapy after the primary therapy). It seems it may help as part of a total Integrative Programme but does not seem to work on its own. For example, in a study in Denmark with 22 breast cancer patients, high CoQ1O supplementation did play a significant factor but only with and after surgery.

There is also limited research that it can increase survival in prostate cancer patients. Low blood levels of Co Q10 have been found in cancer patients with myeloma, lymphoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer (NCI)

At the National Cancer Research Institute in Tokyo a research study using rats showed that one group who were supplemented with Co Q10 had significantly less cancer develop than the group not supplementing when both were infected with cancer.

Is CoQ10 a cancer cure? No. On its own it doesn't seem to be. But it may make a significant contribution if used in your overall Integrative and Complementary treatment programme, although the benefits of supplementation seem to build up and may take three months to kick-in, according to research.

Warning: Statins

It has been clearly established that statins reduce Coenzyme Q10 levels in the body. Doctors can and do watch for signs of muscle and heart problems. However, they rarely check for the danger of developing dementia. Statins are the enemy of CoQ10 wherever it lies in tissues. And CoQ10 is important in brain function.

Supplementing? Ubiquinone or Ubiquinol?

Coenzyme Q10 is one of the body's natural chemicals that is in plentiful supply at puberty, but declines with age. Studies in America showed that 60 year olds taking levels of CoQ10 around 30-50 mg for a period of 3 months or more could restore serum levels similar to those of people in their Twenties. In other words, supplementation seems to deliver.

Research levels with breast cancer patients are often at much higher levels around 250mg - 300mg per day. We have no safety data though.

At one point all available CoQ10 supplements were produced by Japanese companies or under licence to them using a patented fermentation process. This made supplements expensive. This has certainly frustrated and influenced American researchers. The great majority of high street CoQ10 supplements are in the ubiquinone form. One in five Americans supplement with CoQ10, and it seems frequently advised if you take statins.

Ubiquinol is the reduced form of ubiquinone (the oxidised form of CoQ10) and in limited research studies it seems to be more bioavailable. Several studies with mice have shown greater uptake in the liver and greater anti-ageing benefits. (Green Med Info) The ubiquinone form is converted in the body to the ubiquinol form and 90 per cent of the circulating blood plasma CoQ10 is in this ubiquinol form.

No serious side effects are reported in healthy people using the supplement. It does not need drug approval as it is classified as a food supplement.

If you are already contemplating supplementing with Coenzyme Q10 you might like to look the Natural Selection Products of Choice in the UK. You can do this by clicking this link.

At last - the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help you beat cancer. Click here to read about it.





3. Fischer, Schmelzer; 2012 - 

4. Tian, Nishio, Oct 2013 - CoQ10 supplementation activates mitochondrial functions to decelerate senescence -

5. Johansson, Alehagen et al 2015, J Nutr Health Aging; 

6. Meta-analysis - Therapeutic Potential of CoQ10 - 2019.




Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building a Complementary and Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.


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