CoQ10—Protection Beyond the Heart

25 June 2013 by Larissa Long in Whole Health Update

Over the past decade or so, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has become the antioxidant darling of naturopathic physicians and cardiologists, and even many mainstream doctors—and with good reason. This nutrient is an essential component in your body’s energy production.

The majority of the CoQ10 in your body resides in your heart, but you’ll also find it in the brain and liver. Considering these are three of the hardest-working organs in the body, it’s only natural they need as much energy-boosting help as possible.

CoQ10 itself has two main functions in the body. First, it escorts electrons from the foods we eat to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—a nucleotide that contains a readily available form of energy to be used for various metabolic processes. This activity takes place in the mitochondria—the cells’ “energy factories.” In fact, the mitochondria produce up to 95 percent of our body’s ATP.

Second, CoQ10 protects your heart and arteries from oxidative stress and inflammation by scavenging harmful free radicals. This function becomes even more critical, considering ATP production generates a lot of free radical byproducts.

In addition to its many heart-protective properties, CoQ10 can prevent memory decline; combat fibromyalgia, weakness and fatigue; and fight free radicals that accelerate the general aging process.

And now, new research shows that CoQ10 has another unique function—it can protect the eyes, especially during vision-corrective surgeries like photorefractive surgery (PRK) or laser subepithelial keratomileusis (LASIK).1

CoQ10 and Vision

During these procedures, doctors use ethanol to aid in the removal of the epithelium (the outermost layer of tissue) of the eye. While this is necessary for surgery, the downside is that ethanol tends to cause apoptosis (cell death) in certain tissues in the cornea called the fibroblasts. Fibroblasts have two jobs: They produce collagen, a major structural protein that gives blood vessels strength and integrity; and they create enzymes to help break down old collagen so that new collagen can take its place. By doing this, fibroblasts help the corneas heal after injury, trauma…and surgery.

The thickest layer of the cornea that lies just below the epithelium—the stroma—is made up mainly of collagen and other proteins, which give the eye its shape and form. So the destruction of fibroblasts could have lasting repercussions, including reduced healing, scarring and loss of visual acuity.

In their study, researchers aimed to find out if administration of CoQ10 can prevent cell death of corneal fibroblasts. They put bovine corneas through a variety of experiments to induce fibroblast apoptosis using ethanol. While doing this, they noted a few key findings. Three of the most notable discoveries were:

  • The ethanol actually caused severe damage to the mitochondria
  • Cell death is initiated by a substance called caspase-2
  • CoQ10 blocked capase-2-mediated cell death caused by ethanol.

Researchers discovered the final point when they pretreated the cells with CoQ10 prior to ethanol administration. The pretreatment “significantly increased cell viability” after eight and 12 hours, and “significantly decreased the percentage of apoptotic cells” at the same time points.

They also found that CoQ10 blocked capase-2-mediated mitochondrial damage caused by ethanol.

The Future of Eye Care?

Obviously, this study is just the beginning of what promises to be fascinating discoveries on CoQ10’s protection of organs beyond the heart.

Our recommendation is that you start supplementing with CoQ10 now, if you’re not already. CoQ10 supplementation becomes even more important as we age because our natural levels of the nutrient start to decline. This drop starts in the mid-30s, and by age 80, most of us have lower levels of CoQ10 in our systems than we had at birth.2

Aim for 50-100 mg of CoQ10 (as ubiquinol) per day, preferably with a meal.


  1. Chen CC, et al. J Biol Chem. 2013 Apr 26;288(17):11689-704.
  2. MedLine Plus.

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