Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vitamin-like substance that is naturally produced and present in every cell in the human body.1,2

CoQ10’s role in various cellular functions means it is essential for the health of virtually all human tissues and organs – the body uses it for cell growth and to protect cells from damage.3 CoQ10 is known by various names such as Q10, Vitamin Q10, Ubiquinone and Ubidecarenone.2

The Q and the 10 in CoQ10 stand for the various chemicals that makeup the substance and their structure; while the label of coenzyme implies it plays a vital role in the processes related to a variety of enzymes.1,4

For a number of reasons levels of CoQ10 may decrease as people age, if their bodies require increased levels, if cells aren’t producing it properly or if there is insufficient intake of the correct chemicals required to synthesize it.2

Coenzyme Q10: The facts

The two fields in which the characteristics of CoQ10 play the biggest role are bioenergetics and free radical chemistry.1

CoQ10 and bioenergetics

Bioenergetics is a term used to describe the field of biochemistry which looks specifically at cellular energy production.1 The part of the cell associated with energy production is called the mitochondria. Mitochondria are commonly referred to as ‘the power house of the cell’. They take in glucose and oxygen and release energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy currency of cells.

This is where CoQ10 plays a role: it has an essential role in the function of mitochondria. CoQ10 plays a key role in the generation of ATP, thus providing energy to the cell for the execution of all cellular functions.6,7

CoQ10 and free radical chemistry

In chemistry, a free radical is a molecule which is able to exist independently with an unpaired electron in its orbit. In general, free radicals all share certain properties, namely that they are unstable and highly reactive. If there are too many free radicals left unregulated in the body a condition known as oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can damage a variety of compounds in the body and contribute to a number of diseases. To combat this, there must always be a balance between free radicals and antioxidants for proper function of the body’s ongoing processes.

Antioxidants are molecules which are stable enough to donate a spare electron to the free radical to neutralise it. Their ability to neutralise free radicals means that antioxidants are able to combat oxidative stress and so are crucial in maintaining normal bodily processes. If the body needs additional support coping with oxidative stress, one potential solution is to introduce additional antioxidants via external means (i.e. foods rich in antioxidants, medication, supplements, etc.)8

CoQ10 is a highly significant antioxidant which is naturally produced in the body and consumed in small amounts in various food groups.3 As a powerful antioxidant, CoQ10 plays a vital role in neutralising free radicals. By doing this it protects otherwise healthy cells from damage and instability and ensures proper bodily processes can proceed. Not only this, but it has additionally been shown to protect healthy cells from programmed cell death, a process known as apoptosis.9

To summarise, CoQ10 has two main functions:

  • As a key element in energy production which takes place in the mitochondria of the cell
  • As a powerful antioxidant which neutralises free radicals: protecting healthy cells from damage and keeping healthy cells from undergoing programmed cell death

A brief history of Coenzyme Q10

The discovery of CoQ10 was not a mere coincidence or unexpected scientific breakthrough but rather the end of a long journey to uncover the substances involved in the processes of biological energy production.5 The compound was first identified in 1940 but it was not until 1957 that researcher Dr. Frederick Crane working at a lab at the University of Wisconsin, USA first isolated the substance.1,3 He then brought the novel compound to Professor Karl Folkers who in 1958 determined the precise chemical structure of CoQ10.1

Since its initial isolation in 1957 the compound has been studied extensively and found to have the numerous qualities and characteristics listed above. Dr. Crane and Professor Folkers are considered to be the founding fathers in the history of CoQ10 though other renowned figures have devoted much of their life’s work to it as well. Among these notable individuals is British biochemist Peter Mitchell. Mitchell received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1978 for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer, which includes the vital role of CoQ10 in both energy production and energy transfer systems.1