Heart disease. Cancer. AIDS. As unbelievable as it might sound, each of these deadly diseases often responds to a coenzyme Q10, a little known nutrient that can make a big difference in your health.

Granted, such “cure all” statements leave people wondering whether CoQ10 is just the latest panacea of the month. Rest assured: the benefits of this nutrient are well documented in the medical journals. It’s one of the most frequently prescribed heart “drugs” in Japan and widely used in Europe-and one company even owns the patent for the CoQ10 treatment of AIDS.

Ask your doctor about CoQ10, though, and he’ll probably say he’s never heard of it. Part of the problem is CoQ10’s name. “Most doctors don’t know what a coenzyme is,” said Karl Folkers, Ph.D., one of the researchers who pioneered CoQ10. Most biochemists know it as ubiquinone, an equally arcane name.

CoQ10 is a little easier to appreciate when you remember that vitamins function as co-enzymes in the body, furthering thousands of essential biochemical reactions. CoQ10’s key role is in producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), needed for energy production in every cell of the body. Secondary to that, CoQ10 functions as a powerful antioxidant.

This vitamin-like nutrient occurs widely in the food supply, though not always in significant amounts. In addition, each cell in the body manufactures CoQ10, though not always very efficiently. That means you may not be getting enough for optimal health.

“Like the vitamins discovered in the early part of this century, CoQ10 is an essential element of food that can now be used medicinally,” explained Peter Langsjoen, M.D., a cardiologist in Tyler, Texas.

CoQ10 and the Heart

CoQ10 was discovered in 1957-relatively late as vitamins discoveries go-by Frederick Crane, Ph.D., now at Purdue University in Indiana. Four years later, Peter D. Mitchell, Ph.D., of the University of Edinburgh, figured out how CoQ10 produces energy at the cellular level and, in 1978, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for this discovery.

By the mid-1960s, Japanese researchers recognized that CoQ10 concentrated in the myocardium, or heart muscle. Its role in the heart makes sense: the heart, one of the body’s most energetic organs, beats approximately 100,000 times a day and 36 million times a year, and depends on CoQ10 for “bioenergetics.” In the early 1980s, Folkers, director of the Institute for Biochemical Research at the University of Texas, and the late Per H. Langsjoen, M.D. (Peter’s father), conducted the first study of CoQ10 in the treatment of cardiomyopathy, a form of progressive heart failure.

The findings were astounding. In a well-controlled study, 19 patients who were expected to die from heart failure rebounded with an “extraordinary clinical improvement,” according to Folkers and Langsjoen’s report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (June 1985;82:4240-4).

Case studies demonstrate the dramatic effect of CoQ10. In Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (Jan 15, 1993;182:247-53), Folkers described a 43-year-old man suffering from cardiomyopathy. After being given CoQ10, his enlarged heart became smaller (indicating it was working more efficiently), and he was able to resume an “extremely active athletic lifestyle.” The heart function of another patient, a 50-year-old man with very severe cardiomyopathy, returned after he took CoQ10, and he has since had “no limitations of activity.”

Numerous other studies have confirmed the role of CoQ10 in treating heart failure, which is otherwise treated with drugs (such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors)-or with a heart transplant. A sampling:

  • Sixty-five cardiologists treating 806 patients for heart failure or ischemic heart disease indicated “significant” benefits from CoQ10. (Langsjoen, PH, Klinische Wochenschrift, 1988;66:583-90.)
  • Twenty-five hundred heart failure patients at 173 Italian medical centers were given 50 to 150 mg CoQ10 daily for three months. Eighty percent of the patients had some type of improvement. (Clinical Investigator, Aug. 1993;71S:145-9)
  • A 12-month double-blind study compared 319 patients taking CoQ10 with 322 taking a placebo. CoQ10 reduced complications of heart failure as well as the need for hospitalization. (Clinical Investigator, Aug. 1993;71S:134-6).

CoQ10 and Cancer

Although CoQ10 is best documented in the treatment of heart failure, two recent medical journal articles suggest tremendous promise in the treatment of cancer. In Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (April 15, 1993;192:241-5), Folkers described 10 cancer patients given CoQ10 for heart failure. One of the patients, a 48-year-old man diagnosed in 1977 with inoperable lung cancer, has been not had any signs of either cancer and heart failure symptoms while taking CoQ10 for 17 years! Another patient, an 82-year-old man, had been treated for colon cancer.

Knud Lockwood, M.D., a cancer specialist in Copenhagen, Denmark, recently described his treatment of 32 “high-risk” breast cancer patients with antioxidant vitamins, essential fatty acids, and CoQ10. “No patient died and all expressed a feeling of well-being,” he wrote in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (March 30, 1994;199:1504-8). “These clinical results are remarkable since about 4 deaths would have been expected. Now, after 24 months, all still survive; about 6 deaths would have been expected.”

Six of the 32 patients showed partial tumor remission, and two benefited from very high doses of CoQ10. One, a 59-year-old woman with a family history of breast cancer, had a tumor removed from her left breast. The cancer returned, but “stabilized” at about 1.5-2 centimeters (about 1/2 to 3/4-inch) in diameter when the patient took 90 mg. of CoQ10 daily. One month after increasing the CoQ10 intake to 390 mg. daily, the tumor disappeared. Mammography confirmed its absence.

Another patient, age 74, had a small tumor removed from her right breast. She refused a second operation to remove additional growths and began taking 300 mg of CoQ10 daily. Three months later, an examination and mammography revealed no evidence of the tumor or metastases.

Lockwood, who has treated some 7,000 cases of breast cancer over 35 years, wrote that until using CoQ10, he had “never seen a spontaneous complete regression of a 1.5-2.0 centimeter breast tumor, and has never seen a comparable regression on any conventional anti-tumor therapy.”

CoQ10 and AIDS

One of the most remarkable findings was that CoQ10 supplementation could extend the lifespan of patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). In 1986, Folkers and Per Langsjoen began treating seven patients with HIV or AIDS. Not all of the patients consistently took CoQ10, but “the treatment was very encouraging and at times even striking,” Folkers wrote in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (June 16, 1988;153:888-96). “All 7 patients (3 AIDS, 4 ARC) felt better soon after starting on CoQ10,” wrote Folkers.

It’s with the treatment of AIDS that the medical story of CoQ10 turns into one of economic intrigue. The University of Texas, where the AIDS/CoQ10 research was conducted, applied for a “use-patent” for the treatment of AIDS. The patent (#1,011,858), one of several for CoQ10 and immune function, was granted on April 30, 1991. The use-patent gives the owner full patent rights to the nutrient when it’s prescribed for the treatment of AIDS.

In 1993, the university sold the use-patient to James Ryan, an investment banker and one of the patients in Folkers’ original cardiomyopathy study. Ryan, head of Ryan Pharmaceuticals, paid several hundred thousand dollars for the use patent, then sold it for an estimated $2 million to Receptagen, a U.S./Canadian biotechnology firm. The company plans to market prescription versions of CoQ10 for the treatment of AIDS sometime in the next two years.

How Much To Take?

So is CoQ10 a drug or a nutrient? Studies of patients with heart disease, cancer, and AIDS indicate that they are routinely deficient in CoQ10. Although CoQ10 is found in many foods, only organ meats contain significant amounts-but most people do not eat these foods. Can the body make up the difference? Folkers is doubtful. He recently observed that “many Americans do not have adequate levels of all the vitamins, coenzymes and trace elements for the multi-step biosynthesis of CoQ10 even for limited health and survival apart from optimum health and survival.”

So if CoQ10 so good, why don’t more doctors use it? Peter Langsjoen, M.D., recently ventured an explanation.

“The answer to this question is found in the fields of politics and marketing and not in the fields of science or medicine. The controversy surrounding CoQ10 likewise is political and economic, as the previous 30 years of research on CoQ10 have been remarkably consistent and free of major controversy,” he explained.

“Although it is not the first time that a fundamental and clinically important discovery has come about without the backing of a pharmaceutical company, it is the first such discovery to so radically alter how physicians must view disease. While the pharmaceutical industry does a good job at physician and patient education on their new products, the distributors of CoQ10 are not as effective at this.”

Therapeutic dosages of CoQ10 for serious diseases range from 200-400 mg. daily, ideally under a physician’s supervision. It works in diverse conditions because the basic underlying mechanisms are the same-energy production at the cellular level and antioxidant protection against free radicals. In an interview, Folkers said that CoQ10 is safe and has no negative side effects, though it may decrease the need for other heart medicines. A common preventive dose ranges from 10-30 mg daily.

The information provided by Jack Challem and The Nutrition Reporterâ„¢ newsletter is strictly educational and not intended as medical advice. For diagnosis and treatment, consult your physician. And in case you were wondering, neither Jack Challem nor The Nutrition Reporterâ„¢ sell vitamins.