Welcome to part 10 of our series highlighting the science-backed benefits of 11 essential nutrients! In this series, we proceed from Vitamin A to Z (zinc!). Similar to our previous articles, we will delve into the emerging evidence linking these nutrients to optimal cognitive function, with a focus on women’s brain health. We will discuss which foods serve as rich sources of these nutrients so that you can find new recipes to incorporate them into your healthy, balanced diet.

Last month, we turned our attention to magnesium, a naturally occurring element with important implications in muscle, bone, and heart function. We discussed the role of magnesium in migraine prevention through the production of neurotransmitters as well as its role in allowing the body to adapt to stress by regulating levels of our stress hormone (cortisol). 

This month we turn our attention to ubiquinone, a compound commonly referred to as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). As the name implies, CoQ10 is a ‘coenzyme’ which means that it works with other proteins in the body to facilitate various biochemical reactions involved in energy production. Specifically, CoQ10 is involved in the process of oxidative phosphorylation within the mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of the cell, where it helps generate energy that in turn propel our muscles, heart, and brain to perform optimally.

The name Ubiquinone also reflects its widespread (“ubiquitous”) distribution in the human body. Like many of the other vitamins and minerals we have featured, CoQ10 also has potent antioxidant properties. This helps to protect cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to aging and various diseases.

Coenzyme Q10 is found in small amounts in certain foods, such as organ meats (like liver and heart), fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), and whole grains. Because of its role in energy production and antioxidant activity, CoQ10 supplements are popular among people interested in supporting heart health, enhancing exercise performance, or managing certain conditions like migraines and neurodegenerative diseases. 

The scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of CoQ10 supplementation is relatively new and the outcomes are variable depending on the context it has been studied in.  In this article, we will highlight some of the emerging evidence linking CoQ10 to brain health, antiaging and longevity, and quality of life. 

A 2022 article published in the Journals of Gerontology by a Spanish team of scientists highlights the increasing body of evidence suggesting a relationship between CoQ10 levels and neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimers and other causes of dementia. Because age-related deterioration of brain function is associated with inflammation and oxidative stress, the authors hypothesized that the antioxidant activity of CoQ10 might have protective benefits against these changes. 

The authors recruited adults between the ages of 65-99, 75% of whom were women. All participants completed two assessments of cognitive function, the Mini-Mental State Examination, which assesses for cognitive impairment, and the Frontal Assessment Battery, which tests for ‘executive function’, higher-order thinking and decision making. Blood levels of CoQ10 were also collected.

The authors found that the level of CoQ10 was associated with both cognitive and executive functioning. This is consistent with the breadth of research suggesting that lower CoQ10 levels and other markers of neurologic stress have a particularly strong impact on executive function, attention, and performance on complex tasks amongst older adults. 

These findings build on those published in the 2014 edition of Atherosclerosis by Japanese physician, Dr. Yamagishi. The authors set out to determine whether CoQ10 levels were associated with risk of dementia. Between 1984-1994, they recruited nearly 6000 Japanese individuals between 40-70 years old and measured the blood levels of CoQ10 in both those who developed symptoms of dementia and those who did not. 

When other variables like age and sex were accounted for, they found an inverse relationship between levels of CoQ10 and the risk of developing dementia – such that those with higher levels of the enzyme had a lower likelihood of dementia. 

Interestingly, some emerging evidence has shown that even more benign symptoms, like fatigue, can be reduced by antioxidant supplementation such as CoQ10. A 2022 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that adding CoQ10-containing supplements to a standard diet were associated with reduced levels of reported fatigue. 

While there is evidence supporting these potential benefits, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of CoQ10 can vary, and not all studies agree on its benefits. Additionally, CoQ10 supplements are generally considered safe, but they can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners or blood pressure medications. Therefore, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting CoQ10 supplementation to ensure it’s appropriate for your specific situation.

CHECK OUT THE OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

Part 1: Vitamin A (to Zinc!)

Part 2: Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Part 3: Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 

Part 4: Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Part 5: Vitamin B-12

Part 6: Vitamin D

Part 7: Vitamin C

Part 8: Omega-3 fatty acids

Part 9: Magnesium

Part 10: Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

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