Using CoQ10 for Energy Generation and Recovery
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is also known by the name ubiquinone for the reason that it is ubiquitous throughout all living cells in all animals and most bacteria. It was first discovered in 1940 (1). Subsequently, it was first isolated from beef heart in 1957 (2). It is a fat soluble nutrient which can be in two primary forms depending on its state of oxidation and these are named as ubiquinone (oxidised form) or ubiquinol (reduced form). CoQ10 is known as a vitamin-like compound, as it can be made by cells in the body, but is also essential for many life processes (3). These include the primary biochemical function of CoQ10 as an energy transfer compound within the aerobic metabolism pathway (4).
CoQ10 is found within cells in the membranes of organelles called mitochondria, which are essentially the energy factories of the cells. Here in the ubiquinone form, it carries out one of its most important functions within the body – being a cog in the engine of energy generation. CoQ10 is an integral compound in the aerobic metabolism pathway in this location and is involved in the process of producing a biomolecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from glucose in the presence of oxygen (5). ATP is the energy currency which is then used by cells to carry out many biochemical processes needed to sustain life. In terms of numbers, the aerobic pathway breaks down one glucose to give between 34-36 ATPs compared to the anaerobic pathway, which will give as little as 2 ATPs per glucose, and additionally, produces the damaging by-product lactic acid (6). Under normal conditions, 95% of the body’s energy will be generated using the aerobic metabolism pathway. For this reason, with endurance and stamina type exercise, it is desirable to use the aerobic pathway to its maximum potential for energy generation and the two limiting factors in doing this are oxygen and CoQ10.
Higher energy producing cells such as heart, kidney and liver cells naturally contain higher concentrations of CoQ10 (114, 67 and 55 grams of CoQ10 per gram of tissue respectively in humans) due to their higher energy demands (1). As CoQ10 is an integral part of the aerobic metabolic pathway, which produces much more energy than the anaerobic alternative, it facilitates more efficient energy production by acting as an electron transporter (within the mitochondrial electron transport chain). This potentially can delay the onset of anaerobic metabolism and fatigue during exercise.
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When the cells in the body carry out biochemical reactions during exercise, these processes generate many compounds called “free radicals” or “reactive oxygen species” or “oxidants” and these can damage the cellular structure of the body in many ways (7). The body has natural anti-oxidants (including CoQ10) for dealing with these oxidants (8). In this way, there is a natural in-built oxidant-antioxidant equilibrium (9). However, when a lot of ATP is used by the body for energy (i.e. during strenuous exercise), then more of these damaging oxidants are produced and this natural equilibrium becomes unbalanced.
Due to the presence of oxygen in the stomach, a large proportion of CoQ10 ingested orally will reach the intestine as the oxidised ubiquinone form (10). However, during the absorption process by the intestinal cells it is reduced to the ubiquinol form and stays in this form during circulation within the blood stream. This form is the active anti-oxidant configuration of CoQ10 and it is needed in in this format in circulation to protect against the oxidants mentioned above (11,12). Within cells, CoQ10 can also carry out the same anti-oxidant function, as it is fat soluble, and it can penetrate into cell membranes which are one of the main targets which are damaged by oxidants in intense exercise (4,13). Thus, CoQ10 will aid in the reduction of this exercise induced oxidative stress on cells.
CoQ10 can potentially aid in reducing post-exercise recovery times for two reasons related to its functionality:
(i) Maximising the aerobic energy pathway due to the presence of greater levels of CoQ10 will help delay cells entering the anaerobic, lactic acid producing pathway. This will potentially reduce the overall quantity of lactic acid produced for a set period of exercise. During post-exercise recovery, excretion of this lactic acid from skeletal muscle tissue is an important factor in determining recovery time.
(ii) Another crucial factor in how long cells take to repair after intense exercise is the level of damage inflicted on them by oxidants produced during the physiological exertion as explained above. The anti-oxidant properties of CoQ10 have beneficial effects in dealing with such oxidants (14). Thus, CoQ10 has the ability to help reduce the total level of exercise related, oxidative induced damage in cells. In this way, recovery time can be potentially reduced.
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Having being raised in a family which always had involvement in the equine industry he has enjoyed competing horses in show jumping, point-to- point and endurance riding competitions for many years which included reaching an international level in endurance racing.