Coenzyme Q10 – Mighty Brain Energizer
Coenzyme Q10 is essential as a brain booster and rejuvenator, helping protect your brain against “normal” aging and the serious brain diseases that accompany it.
If your brain cells run low on coenzyme Q10, also known as coQ10, energy production in the tiny furnaces of the neuron, the mitochondria, slows down, creating an energy crisis and dysfunction. Add to that increased onslaughts by hordes of free radicals intent on turning the fat in your nerve cell membranes rancid so message transmission is screwed up and the cell’s survival is in peril. The stage is set for eventual catastrophe, even though it may be many years in the making: an erosion of brain integrity, intellectual decline, memory loss, motor disturbances, and the cluster of degenerative brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
Imagine trying to start your car, but the engine doesn’t turn over and you discover the spark plugs are faulty. Without the spark, the engine is inoperative. The same thing happens in your brain if you lack coenzyme Q10. This remarkable antioxidant is “the cellular spark plug,” says Dr. Lester Packer, that incites the tiny energy centers, the mitochondria, in nerve cells (and other cells), to churn out the vital chemical ATP (adenosine triphosphate) that fuels all life. Without coenzyme Q10, there is no spark to rev up the cell’s energy production. It’s not hard to imagine how sluggish brain cells become without coQ10. Their energy engines are apt to misfire or fail totally. In a word, “you are running on empty,” says Dr. Packer, or at the very least on low-octane fuel.
Essentially, coQ10 molecules are the workers within the micro-energy factories, or mitochondria, that shuttle protons and electrons from one bio-energy enzyme to another in a continuous cycle, thousands of times every second. Without enough coQ10 molecules, the cell’s energy production system breaks down. A brain with a shortage of coQ10 is unable to function at top form, and may even degenerate faster over the years.
AN ELITE ANTIOXIDANT
CoQ10 does double duty—as the spark of cell energy—and a potent antioxidant. CoQ10 is a member of the elite force of five antioxidants that Dr. Packer elevates to the highest status in cell protection. CoQ1O, along with vitamin E, works in the fatty parts of the cells where the potential for damage is worst. A key reason cells disintegrate, malfunction, and may be destroyed, is the huge assault on their fatty membranes, resulting in the most feared damage, called “lipid peroxidation.” Such “lipid peroxidation” is the initial stage of the beginning of the end of a brain cell. If that toxic change can be avoided, your brain cells are much more likely to survive and generate needed energy. Another plus that makes coQ10 so powerful in brain cells: It not only fights lipid peroxidation, it also resuscitates vitamin E, a major force in shielding brain fats from peroxidation.
FIRST HEART, Now BRAIN
For years, scientists concentrated on the danger of low coenzyme Q10 in heart cells, finding that the heart’s energy slows down dramatically without enough coQ10, contributing to heart failure, and that restoring high levels could reenergize heart function. Only recently have scientists turned their attention to the malfunction of brain cells when coQ10 levels are low. As expected, the potential consequences of a disruption of energy production in brain cells due to a coQ10 shortage are every bit as serious as in heart cells. Obviously, since a brain without adequate coQ10 cannot work at full power, memory and learning abilities decline, and the brain appears to become more vulnerable to age-related neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and ALS.
Unfortunately, aging robs the brain of coQ10; much less is produced internally as you get older, contributing to age-related brain disorders. At the same time, free radical activity revs up, making aging a double threat to neurons. Your once mighty mitochondria, young and vigorous, become tired and drained of energy as they age. One way to rejuvenate them: take coQ10.
THE MITOCHONDRIA MIRACLE
Each cell has thousands of mitochondria, where the complex chemistry that creates energy (read “life”) occurs. All goes well if the mitochondria are normal. But through the years, these tiny structures are bombarded by free radicals, damaging their DNA, leaving them defective. How well a cell continues to generate energy depends on the proportion of normal mitochondria to defective ones, says Douglas Wallace, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at Emory University. Accumulated DNA damage from aging can decrease the number of normal mitochondria to the point the cell becomes incapacitated, says Wallace. For example, defective mitochondria stop producing glutathione, a powerhouse antioxidant in brain cells. Most vulnerable are cells that require the most energy—namely in the brain and heart. What coenzyme Q10 does: facilitates the energy-generating process (electron transport) and scares off free radicals that render mitochondria defective.
The mitochondria of neurons need extra antioxidant protection because brain cells burn so much energy and are full of fat that must be detoxified if they are to function normally.
CoQ10 MAKES BRAIN CELLS YOUNG AGAIN
CoQ10 is riding high among neuroscientists mainly due to an impressive series of studies by former Harvard neurologist Dr. M. Flint Beal, M.D., now chair of the neurology department at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Since it’s known that coQ10 levels sink as you age, researchers needed to know whether a supplement of coQ10 would find its way to brain cells, replenishing them. Dr. Beal fed middle-aged lab animals high doses of coQ10. Autopsy examinations of their brain tissue showed that levels of coQ10 increased dramatically in the cerebral cortex of the animals. Moreover, coQ10 was most concentrated in the prime target, the brain mitochondria, where it’s most needed. The longer the animals took coQ10, the higher the levels rose. Brain levels of coQ10 jumped 8 percent after one week, 16 percent after one month, and fully 30 percent after two months! This restored the levels of coQ10 to those seen in young animals. In other words, taking coQ10 dramatically rejuvenated brain cells. It’s expected to have a similar effect on human brains.
CoQ10 BLOCKS ALS
In other striking experiments Dr. Beal’s team found that coQ10 could increase the survival time of mice genetically bred to develop Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and markedly block the development of brain injury characteristic of this disease. The brains of people with Lou Gehrig’s typically form more free radicals and have abnormally low levels of antioxidants, along with lethargic mitochondria. It’s the same situation you find in brains that are aging abnormally fast, says Dr. Packer.
Dr. Beal’s intent: to see if coQ10 could save brain cells from ALS-type destruction. Injecting a specific poison, malonate, into the animals’ brains typically destroys mitochondria, producing massive injury and death. He found that giving coQ10 along with the poison reduced the extent of the brain damage and prolonged the animals’ lives. He found the same thing in the brains of animals genetically prone to a specific type brain damage found in Hunting-ton’s disease. CoQ10 virtually wiped out the occurrence of such brain injuries. It appears says Dr. Beal that coQ10 may be effective in combating various degenerative brain diseases, namely Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, and Hunting-ton’s.
Interestingly, taking coQ10 supplements pushed brain levels up in adult animals, but not in young ones. Presumably, younger animals already have brains saturated with coQ10. However, as you age, coQ10 levels decline, because your body makes less coQ10 and the rate of “lipid peroxidation” speeds up, using up coQ10 to fight off free radicals. The idea, then, to protect an aging brain from damage is to restore coQ10 levels to those of earlier days. In short, use coQ10 to rejuvenate your brain!
NEW HOPE FOR TREATING PARKINSON’S
CoQ10 looks extremely promising in preventing and treating Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain disease. Scientists have discovered that Parkinson’s involves two defects that coenzyme 010 is good at fixing. One is a dysfunction in the mitochondria’s energy production, the other, free radical damage to nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, located in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Researchers have also found that coenzyme Q10 is exceptionally low in people with Parkinson’s. That clue led Dr. Beal and Cliff Shults, professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, to put coQ10 in the food of animals for a month before giving them, as well as control animals, a toxin designed to destroy dopamine-producing brain cells. It was exciting to note that coQ10-fed animals suffered much less brain damage and loss of dopamine than animals not given coQ10. This suggests that coQ10 could help prevent Parkinson’s and/or retard its progression. High brain levels of coenzyme Q10 might ward off the demons that cripple dopamine production.
It was time to test the idea in humans. A preliminary study suggested that high doses of coenzyme Q10 (200 to 800 milligrams a day) stirred up dopamine-protecting activity in nerve cells. It was successful enough to prompt the National Institutes of Health to fund a full-scale double-blind investigation at twelve leading medical centers to see if coenzyme Q10 slows the worsening of Parkinson’s. Patients not requiring medications such as Levodopa are taking doses of 600 or 1200 milligrams of coQ10 daily.
The National Institutes of Health has also launched a major trial of coQ10 in treating Huntington’s disease—a genetic brain degenerative disease that affects up to 30,000 Americans. The test dose is also 600 milligrams or 1200 milligrams a day. Results of both studies are expected in 2001.
How MUCH CqQ 10 to take ?
There is no established brain dose of coQ10. Dr. Packer favors 30 milligrams a day, as does leading expert Dr. Denham Harman of the University of Nebraska. Other clinicians have suggested a daily antiaging dose of 5 to 10 milligrams. You may need more-100 to 200 milligrams—if you smoke, have heart disease, or a high risk of degenerative brain disease. Any supplement dose will greatly multiply what you get in food, which is typically one milligram of coQ10 daily, research shows. Unfortunately, coQ10 is expensive, because Japanese companies have a monopoly on its production.
Moreover, individuals vary greatly in how they absorb coQ10. Since coQ10 is fat-soluble, it’s best to take it after you have eaten something, or along with a little fat, such as olive oil or peanut butter. The only way to determine whether you have low or high levels of coQ10 is to have a blood test. (See page 173.)
What type? CoQ10 is packaged under many brands. One reliable brand of coQ10 used in Dr. Beal’s tests and in the new NIH clinical trials for Parkinson’s is made by Vitaline Corporation, Ashland, Oregon. Mail order number: 800-648-4755.
DRUGS DRIVE DOWN CoQ10
Taking anticholesterol drugs not only lowers your cholesterol, but also tends to deplete your reserves of coQ10, potentially leaving you with clean arteries but a dysfunctional brain. That’s why if you are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins (prime examples are Mevacor and Zocor), you must be extra sure to take coQ10 supplements to preserve your brain as well as your heart.
BOTTOM LINE: If your brain cells are lethargic, it may be your fault for failing to give them enough coQ10. It can help immunize your brain against “normal” aging and even rejuvenate brains afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases.
A WORD ABOUT A-CARNITINE AS BRAIN-BOOSTER
Another supplement that has energizing powers in brain cells is acetyl-L-carnitine, and some studies suggest your brain may get an added boost by taking acarnitine along with coQ10. Such a-carnitine also pumps up energy production in the mitochondria of cells. Additionally, acetyl-L-carnitine helps retard the loss of receptors on brain cells and stimulates message transmission.
In tests, a-carnitine has improved the mental functioning of some people with Alzheimer’s, but has not proved as effective as once hoped. Usual dose is 250 to 1000 milligrams a day. A reported side effect: vivid dreams. Don’t take a-carnitine if you have epilepsy or manic depression (bipolar disorder). People with Alzheimer’s should use it under a doctor’s supervision.