By Andrew Shea - June 6, 2016
Reviewed by Robert Barry, PhD
Millions of Americans take a CoQ10 supplement to support heart health. Many are surprised to learn that Coenzyme Q10 actually exists in two main forms with important differences.
Conventional CoQ10, technically known as ubiquinone, is the oxidized version of the nutrient. We get some of it from the food we eat but most of our supply is made naturally inside our bodies.
More than 90% of the total CoQ10 in the blood of a healthy young adult is in the Ubiquinol form. 1
Before it can do many of the wonderful things people associate with CoQ10, the conventional form of CoQ10 needs to be converted by our bodies into a more advanced form called Ubiquinol CoQ10.2
This conversion into Ubiquinol (pronounced “you-bik-win-all”) becomes more difficult to complete as we get older or when we have certain health conditions.3 4
Turning Conventional CoQ10 into Ubiquinol CoQ10
Ubiquinol CoQ10 has two special traits missing from its less-advanced cousin: hydrogen molecules and extra electrons.5 They can make a big difference in the nutrient’s ability to move through the blood and be absorbed into cells. The two traits also impact antioxidant activity and play a critical role in making cellular energy.6
Unfortunately, turning conventional CoQ10 into Ubiquinol isn’t easy for many of us as we get older.
Imagine me as a healthy 18 year old needing to push several heavy balls up a hill. Young and carefree Andy has little trouble getting each ball to the top and returning for another one. He barely broke a sweat.
Now imagine me as a 65 year old trying to do the same thing. Though wiser and more mature, 65 year old Andy has a difficult time with this repeating activity. Each trip becomes slower and requires increased recovery time.
A similar uphill process happens in our bodies with conventional CoQ10 when we attempt to convert it into Ubiquinol.
Why the Need to Change into Ubiquinol?
Our most important organs and muscles – the brain and the heart, for example – require massive amounts of cellular energy to function at optimal levels. To make this energy, we need CoQ10 in its Ubiquinol form.
Inside tiny cellular power plants called mitochondria, Ubiquinol CoQ10 uses its two electrons in a very specific way to help convert food to a type of fuel (called ATP) needed by our bodies.
Young, healthy people like 18 year old Andy easily turn ubiquinone into Ubiquinol CoQ10.
But starting around the age 30 and especially after 40, our ability to turn that conventional CoQ10 into the desirable Ubiquinol becomes harder and less efficient. This has an impact on the amount of cellular energy available for our organs to use.
Ubiquinol CoQ10: Another Important Difference
So far we’ve established that the Ubiquinol form of CoQ10 plays a critical role in producing cellular energy needed by important organs such as the heart and the brain. We’ve also covered how, starting around the age of 30, our bodies have a harder time changing conventional CoQ10 into the more advanced Ubiquinol form, impacting our bodies’ supply of cellular energy.
But there’s something else that makes Ubiquinol CoQ10 special.
Unlike conventional CoQ10, Ubiquinol is a very powerful antioxidant by virtue of its two extra electrons. Those electrons are important because they hold the key to neutralizing substances called free radicals.
Free radicals are harmful because they are constantly looking to steal electrons wherever they may be found, including DNA, proteins and lipids. Removing an electron oxidizes the molecule (oxidative stress) and can cause damage that impacts our health.
The Ubiquinol form of CoQ10 doesn’t mind giving up an electron to neutralize a free radical that might have otherwise caused some metabolic trouble.
What’s more, Ubiquinol CoQ10 is one of the few antioxidants that work not just in the fatty parts of our body (such as cell membranes and LDL cholesterol) but also in the mitochondria where energy is manufactured.7 Like car engines produce exhaust, the mitochondria have their own form of exhaust filled with free radicals.
Ubiquinol is the only form of CoQ10 capable of protecting the mitochondria and their lipid membranes from free radical attack.
What’s The Connection to CoQ10 Supplements?
Plenty of Americans take CoQ10 supplements to assist in creating cellular energy that, among other things, is essential in supporting a healthy heart. That’s an important step in promoting good health, but the type of CoQ10 being consumed is critically important.
The energy demands of the human heart are among the highest in the body. This important muscle needs Ubiquinol CoQ10 to function optimally.
Many of the people who take a CoQ10 supplement are taking it in its conventional form. Conventional CoQ10 is fine if you’re a healthy 20-something because your body can easily convert it into Ubiquinol.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans over the age of 30 are unknowingly doing themselves a disservice when they consume CoQ10 in its conventional form. They receive limited value because they may be unable to convert much of the conventional CoQ10 into heart-healthy Ubiquinol.
So what happens when a person takes conventional CoQ10 instead of Ubiquinol?
Sadly, only some of that conventional CoQ10 makes it into their blood, and even less is converted into the desired Ubiquinol form of CoQ10.
If you’re age 30 (or better!) and taking CoQ10 to support your health, be sure to take it in the advanced Ubiquinol form so your body enjoys the maximum benefit possible.
As of the time of publication, Andrew Shea is a Director of Marketing at Kaneka North America LLC, a manufacturer of CoQ10 ingredients. Dr. Barry is an employee of Kaneka and Dr. Schulman is a paid consultant to the company.