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What is Coenzyme Q10?

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By Dr. Ernest Levister

Dear Dr. Levister: My father has a history of heart problems. His pharmacist suggested he take CoQ10. What is it? Is it safe? D.T.

Dear D.T.: Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, is a vitamin-like chemical that is found in practically all the cells in our body, especially in the heart. It has antioxidant properties and the body uses it to generate ATP, a storage form of energy. CoQ10 was approved in Japan in 1974, for use in heart failure. It is available in the United States as a dietary supplement. It is also known as Q10, vitamin Q10, ubiquinone, or ubidecarenone.

As an over-the-counter nutritional supplement, CoQ10 has been used to treat many things, from heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol to diabetes, breast cancer and gum disease. CoQ10 supposedly can help with immune deficiencies, increase fertility, treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, reduce ringing in the ears, delay aging and improve skin, and increase athleticism. That's quite a tall order. But what are CoQ10's real benefits?

At this point, there are no complete, sure bets with CoQ10. It is suspected to be beneficial in numerous applications, most notably heart-related damage, but until additional larger, longer and better-controlled studies are performed, no one can say for sure.

Currently, however, CoQ10 has shown the most definitive benefits in treating hypertension, or high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure have been shown to have less CoQ10 than normal, and CoQ10 has been shown to reduce blood pressure in early research. The treatment of hypertension is the only CoQ10 application that has received a "B" rating, meaning there is good, solid scientific evidence that this is helpful -- though of course, more research is needed to be completely confident.

Is CoQ10 safe? Taking 100 mg a day or more of CoQ10 has caused mild insomnia in some people. And research has detected elevated levels of liver enzymes in people taking doses of 300 mg per day for long periods of time. Liver toxicity has not been reported.

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