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Has Your CoQ10 Become Obsolete?

January 2007

By William Faloon

Twenty four years ago, the Life Extension Foundation introduced coenzyme Q10 to the United States. Back then, it was sold in Japan as a prescription drug to treat heart disease. Life Extension, however, provided persuasive evidence that CoQ10 could help protect against a host of age-related disorders.

Based on a large volume of favorable research, CoQ10 has become one of today’s most popular dietary supplements. In recent years, new delivery systems have been developed that transport more CoQ10 into the bloodstream than original versions.

Providing greater quantities of CoQ10 to the body is of particular importance, since scientific studies show that higher CoQ10 blood levels produce superior benefits.

In what may be the most significant breakthrough in the history of the dietary supplement industry, Japan’s largest CoQ10 producer has discovered a way to deliver the highest concentrations of the most biologically active form of coenzyme Q10 to the bloodstream.

As you will read in this article, this improved form of CoQ10 not only absorbs up to eight times better, but also has demonstrated unprecedented anti-aging effects compared to placebo and compared to the coenzyme Q10 you are using now.

Unlike outrageously priced prescription drugs, this new form of CoQ10 enables consumers to obtain more activated coenzyme Q10 in their bodies at a far lower cost. Based on the findings you are about to read, this novel CoQ10 compound (ubiquinol) could revolutionize how a number of age-related disorders are both prevented and treated.

Scientists long ago discovered that orally ingesting the ubiquinone form of coenzyme Q10 produced beneficial effects on the heart,1-19 brain,1,20-24 kidneys,25-27 and other tissues.1,5,28-38

What the lay literature did not discuss was the fact that in order for the ubiquinone form of CoQ10 to be properly utilized, it first must be reduced in the body to its active metabolite known as ubiquinol. While most ubiquinone is naturally reduced to ubiquinol, the optimal way to supplement with CoQ10 would be to ingest it in its ready-to-use ubiquinol form.

Since ubiquinol is highly unstable, it has been extremely difficult (until now) to make it available as a dietary supplement. After years of painstaking research, Japan’s largest producer of coenzyme Q10 has developed a patented method to stabilize ubiquinol so that it can be swallowed in a capsule for utilization by cells throughout the body.39

The ramifications of widespread use of this novel form of CoQ10 are profound. For the first time, it may be possible to achieve the sustained high blood levels of biologically active ubiquinol CoQ10 needed to delay certain manifestations of aging and its related disorders.

Sharply Higher Absorption Levels

Even with today’s enhanced delivery systems, achieving optimal blood levels of CoQ10 can be challenging. Those suffering from disorders that require higher blood levels have had to consume relatively large doses of CoQ10. Ideal blood levels for those afflicted with neurological disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease) or congestive heart failure are considered to be greater than 3.5 micrograms per milliliter (mcg/mL).43

When CoQ10 is ingested in its reduced form as ubiquinol, higher blood CoQ10 levels can be achieved using smaller milligram doses. In assimilation studies on rats, oral feeding of ubiquinol CoQ10 was shown to increase blood levels more than twice as high as conventional CoQ10 (ubiquinone).44,45 Human assimilation studies are even more impressive.

What Makes Ubiquinol Different from Ubiquinone?

Coenzyme Q10 exists in both ubiquinol and ubiquinone forms, but they have vastly different roles to play in the body. For instance, ubiquinol is an electron donor, while ubiquinone is an electron acceptor.

The electrons that ubiquinol donates neutralize free radicals. This fact alone makes ubiquinol the form of CoQ10 that protects against toxic oxidative reactions in the body.

The chemical difference between ubiquinone and ubiquinol is that the ubiquinol compound contains two hydroxyl groups. These two hydroxyl groups enable ubiquinol to be more “hydrophilic” than ubiquinone, and thus much easier to assimilate.

The term “hydrophilic” means readily absorbable or dissolvable in water. The two hydroxyl groups on the ubiquinol compound result in its stronger bonding with water, which helps explain why it is so much more bioavailable than ubiquinone.

Today’s commercial CoQ10 supplements contain ubiquinone because it remains stable longer in the capsule.

However, it is the reduced form of CoQ10 (ubiquinol) that has the ability to scavenge free radicals in mitochondria and in cell membranes, sites where free radicals inflict significant damage. The ubiquinol form of CoQ10, with its two hydroxyl groups, is what dominates in most human tissues.40

Called a “coenzyme” because of its unique ability to participate in chemical reactions but remain at steady-state levels in the cell, coenzyme Q10 plays a central role in energy metabolism. CoQ10’s ability to cycle back and forth between ubiquinone and ubiquinol accounts for many of its unique properties. This remarkable ability to cyclically accept and donate electrons, as well as to effect complementary chemical reactions in the mitochondria, accounts for CoQ10’s unparalleled value to almost all life forms.

Ubiquinol has a much greater bioavailability than the ubiquinone used in commercially available CoQ10 supplements.39,41,42 This is understandable, since ubiquinol has far greater water solubility and much better absorption into the bloodstream after ingestion.

As shown in Figure 1, a recent human trial showed that supplementing with just 150 mg per day of ubiquinol resulted in CoQ10 blood levels of 3.84 mcg/mL. In study subjects who took 300 mg per day of ubiquinol, blood CoQ10 levels reached 7.28 mcg/mL. This study showed that it took only four weeks to achieve these desirable high levels.46

To put these blood levels in perspective, scientists have conducted human clinical trials using very high doses of conventional CoQ10 in enhanced delivery systems.

As shown in the chart above (Figure 1), one clinical study used 1200 mg per day of ubiquinone CoQ10 to achieve blood concentrations of 3.96 mcg/mL. Based on recently published absorption studies, just 150 mg per day of ubiquinol would provide virtually the same high CoQ10 blood levels as 1200 mg of enhanced-delivery ubiquinone CoQ10.46,47

As indicated in Figure 1, another study used 2400 mg per day of conventional CoQ10 to reach blood levels of 7.25 mcg/mL. Just 300 mg per day of ubiquinol was shown to provide about the same amount (7.28 mcg/mL) of CoQ10 to the blood at four weeks.46,48

A review of published studies on human subjects reveals that it requires very high doses of conventional CoQ10 to achieve the same levels attainable with modest amounts of ubiquinol CoQ10.46-50 Figure 1 clearly shows how little ubiquinol is needed to provide the same blood (plasma) levels that are achieved in response to far greater amounts of ubiquinone. This chart (Figure 1) reveals that it takes eight times more ubiquinone to increase CoQ10 blood levels to what can be achieved with much lower doses of ubiquinol.

Side-by-Side Comparison of Ubiquinol and Ubiquinone

In a side-by-side single-dose human study, ubiquinol absorption was compared directly to conventional CoQ10 (ubiquinone) using the same delivery system. Subjects were given either 100 mg of ubiquinol or 100 mg of ubiquinone. To further validate the study, the subjects were crossed over, so that every participant was tested after receiving ubiquinol and later ubiquinone, and vice versa.

As shown in Figure 2 (next page), the findings showed that in aged test subjects, ubiquinol absorption was 60% greater in this single-dose side-by-side comparison.51

While single-dose oral studies have some limited value, the true picture of bioavailability occurs after people have ingested CoQ10 supplements for about four weeks. In these longer-term studies, the superior absorption of ubiquinol is most pronounced.

Ubiquinol Maintains Higher Blood Levels Longer

Animal and human studies clearly show that ubiquinol is much better absorbed than ubiquinone. What may be even more important is how long ubiquinol CoQ10 remains in the body compared to ubiquinone.

In a study of aged rats, equal amounts of ubiquinol or ubiquinone were orally administered to evaluate how long ubiquinol would remain at increased levels in the blood. The importance of this data is that it might help explain why ubiquinol exhibits superior biological effects compared to ubiquinone.

The results of this study showed that ubiquinol ingestion caused a greater than 90% increase in blood ubiquinol levels and that this elevated level persisted for the entire eight-hour duration of the study. In response to ingestion of an equal amount of ubiquinone, blood ubiquinol levels never even reached 90% of baseline.52

This study also measured ubiquinol levels in micrograms per milliliter (mcg/mL) of blood. As you may recall, humans with certain disorders achieve optimal benefits when CoQ10 blood levels exceed 3.5 mcg/mL. In response to a modest amount of ubiquinol supplementation (the equivalent of 100 mg per day in humans), blood CoQ10 levels peaked at 6.0 (mcg/mL) and dropped to 4.5 after eight hours, as shown in Figure 3 (next page). In the group receiving an equal amount of ubiquinone, peak blood levels increased to only 2.1 (mcg/mL) and declined to 1.2 eight hours later.

In this particular study, ubiquinol was present in the blood at a 3.75-fold greater concentration after eight hours compared to ubiquinone.52