Steve Myers, Senior Editor

May 5, 2010

9 Min Read
Q the Masses

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has had quite a journey as a nutritional ingredient. Isolated from beef heart in the 1950s, CoQ10 took part in a spate positive health studies in the 1980s and beyond, and enjoyed a surge in popularity in the health food segment in the 1990s. Along the way, it helped win a Nobel Prize (Peter Mitchell, 1977). Today, it has a place among cardiologist Stephen Sinatras Awesome Foursome and finds itself a sought-after ingredient in many different formulations, from supplements to functional foods.

The benefits of CoQ10 start with its role in ATP (energy) synthesis in the mitochondria and continue to its antioxidant actions in cell membranes. In healthy people, the body makes sufficient CoQ10 to reap these benefits, but in people with impaired CoQ10 synthesisgenetic defects, nutritional deficiency, drug side effects/interactions, etc.supplementation is necessary. CoQ10 production in the body also diminishes with age, so seniors may have additional need for supplementation.

This vitamin-like nutrient has also proven useful in cases of a weakened heart, which uses more energy than other organs, including congestive heart failure (CHF). In fact, Sinatra lists potential cardio health uses such as ventricular arrhythmia, hypertension, cardiotoxicity, unstable angina and LDL oxidation.

Beyond matters of the heart, CoQ10 and/or a deficiency of the nutrient have been indicated in cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and various brain-health problems such as headaches.

CoQ10 is a ubiquinone found in every cell in the body. In its reduced, active-antioxidant form, ubiquinol, CoQ10 is actually the most powerful lipid-soluble antioxidant known, according to Thomas H. Schrier, national sales manager at Kaneka Nutrients L.P. Its capable of regenerating vitamin C and vitamin E, he said. And, the electrons donated by ubiquinol neutralize free radicals produced in the cell, as well as those coming from the environment.

However, Robin Koon, president of Best Formulations, stated CoQ10 is not one of the bodys primary antioxidant sources, noting vitamin C and others play a much larger role. When circulating through the bloodstream (before being absorbed inside individual cells), it is bound to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in a reduced state, and can have some minor antioxidant effects, he said. This is due to CoQ10s redox properties.

The extent of its antioxidant impact may still be debated, but the importance of CoQ10s ubiquinol form has found solid footing.

Steve Holtby, president and CEO of Soft Gel Technologies Inc., explained CoQ10 can exist in three states: the fully oxidized ubiquinone form (CoQ10); the partially reduced free radical semiquinone intermediate (CoQ10H); and the fully reduced ubiquinol form (CoQ10H2). The body must first convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol, he said, adding it is the dominant form of CoQ10 in human blood and the liver (more than 80 percent). Without ubiquinol to carry electrons through the mitochondria, cellular energy cannot be produced. He further explained it is this conversion to ubiquinol that declines as we age.

CoQ10 is sold in two finished product forms, oxidized (ubiquinone) and reduced (ubiquinol), according to Koon. Regardless of which form is ingested, it is the total absorption of that dose that really matters, he said, noting better absorption means a higher blood level and better bioavailability. The initial powder manufactured is the oxidized form, because it is stable, he explained, noting the reduced form is unstable. When initially absorbed in the intestinal tract, the oxidized form is converted to the reduce form (via an enzyme, CoQ reductase), then placed into circulation. When the reduced form is absorbed, it does not need to utilize an enzyme to be reduced. In the bloodstream, it remains 98 percent in the reduced form, before being absorbed into the cells. Inside the cells, the ratio of reduced to oxidized CoQ10 is the same (50:50). Both forms are absorbed, but there is much variation between dosage forms and products in the marketplace.

Schrier explained it another way, saying the ubiquinone-to-ubiquinol conversion is actually referred to as a Redox cycle, and the two chemicals are called a Redox pair. They are constantly cycling back and forth in cells as the mitochondria use its electrons to generate ATP, he said, adding ubiquinone is an electron acceptor. Ubiquinol is the electron donor, thus referred to as the active antioxidant form, capable of actively donating those electrons for the two aforementioned roles.

Ingredient Offerings

Kaneka first launched its CoQ10 line in 1977, and forgoes the typical synthetic route by making its CoQ10 from yeast fermentation. The company offers both the ubiquinone form, as KanekaQ10, for people who are healthy and have appropriate ability to convert ubiquinone to ubiquinol, and the reduced form, as KanekaQH, a bio-identical ubiquinol form. The company markets its ubiquinol ingredient for those who have decreased conversion ability. Its ubiquinone ingredient is self-affirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe), so it can be used in functional foods and beverage applications, and it is GMO-free, allergen-free and kosher, for use in formulations that require such certifications or assurances.

KanekaQH is the basis of Tishcons ActiveQ® ubioquinol ingredient, as well as its Q-Gel® CoQ10 ingredient, which is available in different percents of CoQ10 combined with vitamin E. The company markets several varieties of ubiquinol combination ingredients, including an omega-3-rich (fish oil, EPA and DHA) and a couple of vitamin C combos. Tishcon also offers Chew Q®, a highly bioavailable chewable solid form of high-potency natural CoQ10 (as ubidecarenone USP). The company noted Chew Q is all natural, vegetarian and is stable throughout several freeze-thaw cycles. It is also free of vitamin E and has a mildly sweet orange flavor.

Soft Gel Technologies also utilizes KanekaQH, the cornerstone of its CoQH-CF soft gel ingredient, which features crystal-free technology. These soft gels contain a liquid inner fill of Kaneka QH, alpha lipoic acid, d-limonene (citrus flavonoid), and capric and caprylic acid. Holtby said this solution protects the Kaneka QH material from oxidation and crystallization.

Soft Gel Technologies also markets several CoQ10 combinations that address some of the nutrients specific researched health benefits. LycoQ combines the companys CoQsol® with lycopene (as Lyco-Mato®, from Lyco Red) for improved cardiovascular health. Holtby said in addition to quenching free radicals, this tandem has shown the ability to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Similarly, the company brought together CoQsol and Carnisol®, an ingredient featuring Lonzas Carnipure®100% pure, natural L-Carnitine L-Tartrate. Carnitine is also a member of Sinatras Awesome Foursome, and Holtby reported, Both L-carnitine and CoQ10 have been extensively studied by the medical community in their support of heart health. He further noted low levels of both nutrients have been correlated with many different cardiovascular problems.

Crystal-free has become the new frontier in CoQ10, with Best Formulations also offering such a patent-pending technology in its Q-Best® ingredient, which also features a tri-lipid blend of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), flaxseed oil and monoglycerides to enhance absorption. In fact, the company maintains Q-Best is eight-times more absorbable than regular CoQ10 powder. CoQ10 powders have traditionally been offered in a crystalline powder, which is hard to absorb due to a melting point for the crystals that is as much as 20-degrees higher than the bodys temperature, according to Best Formulations. The crystals can be solubilized by the inclusion of solvents, but the company said its Q-Best is crystal-free without the use of solvents, increasing bioavailability to four-times more than traditional CoQ10 powder, according to the companys test data. The company noted the formula can be slightly customized.

Exemplifying the broadening range of CoQ10 applications, ZMC-USA makes a 10/20/40-percent CoQ10 powder that is cold-water soluble, for use in beverages, liquid-based products and effervescent tablets. This is in addition to its 98-percent CoQ10 ingredient powder for soft capsules, and its 50-percent, tablet grade CoQ10 powder.

Formulation Challenges

As a lipid-soluble nutrient, CoQ10 is absorbed more readily when placed in lipid mediums or when taken with fat-containing foods. Koon noted the CoQ10 lipid molecule is quite large (845 Daltons), which can present issues, especially in absorption. In functional oral formulas, absorption can vary significantly, he cautioned. From less than 1 percent in plain powder form products (tablet and capsules) to as high as 8 percent in softgel dosage form. He said formulas that help improve absorption are not easily done, but is necessary in creating a functional product.

 Holtby also stated the main concern is absorption, especially in supplements. Many CoQ10 studies focus on bioavailability and absorption, as relatively small quantities of CoQ10 in comparison with ingested quantity are actually taken into the bloodstream, he said. A soft-gel delivery system plays a key role in enhancing the effectiveness of CoQ10 getting into the bloodstream.

Holtby said in foods and beverages, minute quantities of CoQ10 will be added to make a label claim, but it is most likely an amount that is not efficacious. This sector is very price-conscious, so it would be rare to find potencies of 100 mg or more of CoQ10 per serving of the food or drink. He reported another challenge is the light sensitivity of CoQ10, as shown in various research projects. Ubiquinol, especially, is easily oxidized and requires strong protection throughout the production process to ensure its stability, he said.

Schrier listed chocolates, gummies and chewing gum among the innovative applications for CoQ10. However, for other product mediums, the inclusion of CoQ10 can be challenging. He explained CoQ10 is an oil-soluble powder, which is difficult and expensive to emulsify and make water soluble. This makes water-based products, including functional beverages, difficult to formulate and produce.

However, Holtby reported the functional food and beverage category is growing, due to the development of water-dispersible versions of CoQ10. The sports and energy drinks sector has some promising potential, as more consumers learn CoQ10s role in cellular energy production, he noted.

He counted the cosmeceutical products among the other innovative products to feature CoQ10, notably in topical solutions.

 Use of CoQ10 for dermatological issues is now being shown as beneficial for several health problems, according to Koon. Topical use (as in cosmeceuticals) has proven beneficial for several skin conditions: psoriasis, eczema, psoriasis, etc., he said. Several companies are promoting its use as a skin antioxidant, helping to reduce wrinklesUV rays are known to reduce CoQ10 levels in the skin.

As technology continues to drive CoQ10 application innovations, research results on the various health benefits of this vital nutrient encourage more formulators and consumers to look at CoQ10 ingredients for solutions to their needs. Considering this nutrients role in every bodily cell, in addition to any potential antioxidant gain, the marketplace is energized by each new formulation and application involving highly absorbable and bioavailable CoQ10.

About the Author(s)

Steve Myers

Senior Editor

Steve Myers is a graduate of the English program at Arizona State University. He first entered the natural products industry and Virgo Publishing in 1997, right out of college, but escaped the searing Arizona heat by relocating to the East Coast. He left Informa Markets in 2022, after a formidable career focused on financial, regulatory and quality control issues, in addition to writing stories ranging research results to manufacturing. In his final years with the company, he spearheaded the editorial direction of Natural Products Insider.

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