The word “antioxidant” is everywhere these days in reference to the food we should be eating, the supplements we should be taking and in tips for supporting our health. Many people take a daily multivitamin, but the conversation around specific vitamins and minerals and the role of complete nutrition in supporting optimal health has created increasing awareness of specific elements of our diets, such as antioxidants. But while many people may know antioxidants are important, lesser known is what they are and why they matter so much. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.
You’ve likely heard of CoQ10 (also known as ubiquinone or ubiquinol), an important antioxidant that has attracted attention in recent years and is naturally produced by the body. Although we produce CoQ10 naturally, we don’t always have the right balance of it in our systems in order to maintain optimal health. If CoQ10 levels fall below where they should be and cause a decline in coq10 levels, health issues can occur. Now, what is CoQ10 good for and where can you find it?
The mitochondria, (also known as the “powerhouses” of human cells), naturally produce coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10. The mitochondria need CoQ10 because it plays an important role in their healthy maintenance. Mitochondria are vitally important because they are responsible for the production of 90 percent of the body’s energy. Coq10 has many different functions, including lining the mitochondrial membrane, supporting our metabolism, and helping to provide a secure, defensive barrier that supports the mitochondria against damaging by-products in the body, called free radicals. The support offered by CoQ10 means mitochondrial function can continue to produce energy without risking interruption or damage within the cell.
Free radicals are waste products that the body produces naturally as a by-product of cellular processes, such as cellular respiration. Cellular respiration is one of the most important processes in the body and is responsible for the production of energy. The process occurs when mitochondria convert carbon into a substance called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. The food we eat and the air we breathe are the sources of the carbon that our bodies need in order to complete cellular respiration, and the final product, ATP, serves as the main fuel source for the cells, organs, and tissues.
Why would the body generate a waste product that could harm it as a by-product of such an important cellular process? Scientists still aren’t totally clear on all of the ways that free radicals are used in the body, but they do know that free radicals contribute to important mechanisms like allowing the heart to beat faster in stressful situations. Free radicals are made up of an oxygen or nitrogen atom with an unpaired electron in its outer shell. The missing electron causes instability in the free radical, which encourages them to try and “steal” electrons from nearby molecules. This action ultimately damages the structural integrity of the nearby molecule, which is what can make excess free radicals so problematic. Free radicals like superoxide, hydroxyl radical, and nitric oxide radical can attack any of the body’s cells, including fats, protein, DNA, and more.
If you’re thinking that excess free radicals don’t sound so great, you’ll be relieved to know that the body has naturally occurring defenses against them in the form of antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that help to neutralise excess free radicals. Antioxidants are produced naturally by the body and can also be obtained through the consumption of healthy food, like fruits and vegetables. As they move throughout the body, they look for excess free radicals that are trying to add an electron to their existing atom. Once the free radical is recognized, the antioxidant offers it the missing electron and stabilizes the atom. Once the free radical is stabilized, it is no longer able to damage other molecules in the cell. There are two main types of antioxidants; endogenous antioxidants are naturally produced by our bodies, while phytonutrients are produced by plants and ingested in the foods we eat. CoQ10 is an endogenous antioxidant, while antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C are phytonutrients. You’re probably familiar with more antioxidants than you think, as they include substances like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, selenium, manganese, and zeaxanthin. If you’re looking to add more antioxidants to your diet, look for foods that are brightly colored, like spinach, broccoli, and blueberries, as they are often high in antioxidants.
Imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants
While we are young and healthy, our bodies produce equal amounts of free radicals and antioxidants through our cellular and metabolic processes resulting in improved health benefits. Sometimes, however, we begin to have an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can result in oxidative stress. There are several reasons why an imbalance can occur, including lifestyle factors like an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise, or not getting enough sleep, as well as the natural aging process. Oxidative stress is a state in which there are more free radicals than antioxidants, and the antioxidants are therefore unable to sufficiently neutralize the excess free radicals There are some situations in which our bodies naturally enter a state of oxidative stress, including when we’re exercising, but oxidative stress can be problematic when the imbalance is especially high or occurs over an extended period of time. Oxidative stress can often be a sign of poor mitochondrial health.
It might seem crazy to think that such a small part of our individual cells can have a major impact on our physical health, but mitochondria play such an important role in our daily functions that their health has many implications for us. When we talk about mitochondrial health, we are referring to the level of efficiency at which our mitochondria are working. This efficiency determines how well they can produce the energy that we need to perform all of the body’s basic functions, including fighting infection, heart function, digestion, energy production, and recovery from injury and exercise. If the health of our mitochondria begins to decline, it can impact our physical health. There are a number of reasons why changes in mitochondrial health can occur.
What affects mitochondrial health?
Aging affects every natural process in the body, and mitochondrial health is one of the many things that may decline as we age. Aging is the primary reason for the potential decline in mitochondrial health, making it even more important than lifestyle factors. While we are young, our mitochondria produce equal amounts of CoQ10 and free radicals, which helps keep a balance between the two substances and limits molecular and cellular damage. As we age, our bodies often continue to produce the same amount of free radicals but may start to produce less CoQ10. Without enough CoQ10 to protect the mitochondria and cells, free radicals can begin to cause cellular and DNA damage in our tissues. When this occurs, our bodies are forced to spend more time and energy repairing this damage, which means they have less energy for other functions, such as immune system support. Although aging is problematic for mitochondrial health, lifestyle factors, including eating a diet high in fat, sugar, or processed foods, not getting enough sleep, and not exercising enough, can also cause a decline.
Signs of sub-optimal mitochondrial health
There are many different signs that your mitochondrial function may not be performing at its best, and each person will experience this differently. Common signs include:
- Feeling tired or lacking energy
- Increased effects of aging
- Feeling stressed or anxious
- Difficulty sleeping
- Diminished athletic performance and recovery
- Mental clarity issues
How CoQ10 can help
No matter how well we take care of ourselves and focus on living a healthy lifestyle, a natural decline in CoQ10 levels can be an inevitable part of the aging process. The good news is that mitochondrial health can be supported by Coenzyme qQ10 supplementation, which can also help to support the body’s natural response to oxidative stress. Unfortunately, getting an effective CoQ10 supplement isn’t as simple as stopping by your local drug store and grabbing the first bottle you see. The large molecule size of ordinary CoQ10 dietary supplements and the limited permeability of the mitochondria means that the body is unable to absorb the extra CoQ10 from most supplements. However, a significant breakthrough occurred when our scientists discovered that mitochondria have a negative charge compared to the rest of the cell. The presence of a negative charge indicates that CoQ10 needs to be positively charged in order to be sufficiently absorbed. The form of coq10 that was subsequently created, MitoQ, is more effective than all other CoQ10 supplements because the smaller molecule size and positive charge allows the supplement to breach the mitochondrial membrane. After breaching the mitochondrial membrane, MitoQ helps to rebalance the levels of CoQ10 and free radicals inside the cell, which in turn supports the body’s ability to repair free radical damage, helping to reduce oxidative stress.