Coenzyme Q10: CoQ10 on a Plant-Based Diet – Sources, Absorption, Supplements
February 9, 2022
Coenzyme Q10 (also referred to as CoQ10 or ubiquinone) is a vitamin-like compound that has been gaining more attention in recent years. It is richest in animal products such as fish, meat, eggs and dairy. However, it is possible to meet your needs of CoQ10 on a plant-based diet with good planning.
In this article we take a deep dive into how CoQ10 works in the body
What does it do?
Coenzyme Q10 is a substance made in the human body with two main functions.
Firstly, it helps to produce energy within our cells. It’s responsible for the conversion of fats and carbohydrates into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) within the final stage of metabolism.
ATP helps transfer energy between the cells in the body. ATP and CoQ10 are made in every cell. They are mostly found in organs with high energy demands such as the brain, heart, liver and kidneys.
Secondly, it’s a powerful antioxidant that scavenges ‘free radicals’ in the body. High levels of free radicals cause ‘oxidative stress’ which can damage cells and lead to disease. CoQ10 acts to prevent and slow this damage.
How much CoQ10 do I need?
While the body is responsible for most CoQ10 production, a small amount should come from dietary sources. At this stage, there are no specific daily requirements in the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Different people will require different amounts based on their age, genetics, and medications taken.
What are the benefits of CoQ10?
CoQ10 provides many benefits to the human body. These include:
- Energy production: essential in assisting with energy production for cells in the body.
- Antioxidant properties: assists with neutralising free radicals that can damage our cells.
CoQ10 supplements have many claimed benefits. While there is a lot of ongoing research in this area, many of these findings are still inconclusive. However, there are some studies that suggest supplementing can help in the following areas:
- Heart health: may help lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function. Those who have experienced a heart attack or injury to their heart may benefit from supplementing additional CoQ10. Also, those taking statin-based medications (for lowering cholesterol) have found it easier to maintain CoQ10 levels with supplementation.
- Fibromyalgia symptoms: some evidence shows a reduction in symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue for those suffering with fibromyalgia.
- Migraines: may assist with reducing the frequency of migraines.
- Youthful skin: aging skin is linked with higher levels of free radicals and irregular cell function. Some studies have shown reduced wrinkles and protection from UV rays when applying CoQ10 topically in a lotion.
- Fertility: due to its powerful antioxidant profile, studies have shown increased sperm count and motility in infertile men after increasing CoQ10 levels.
The research is less clear about benefits related to type 2 diabetes or neurodegenerative disease. Research in these areas is ongoing.
Testing for CoQ10 deficiency
There are three main ways to check whether someone is deficient in CoQ10:
- Liquid chromatography: this analyses the levels of CoQ10 in the blood serum with a blood test. Normal levels within the blood range from 0.8 – 1.2mg/L. Dietary intake of CoQ10 will be identified with this style of testing.
- Muscle biopsy: a sample of muscle tissue is used to assess levels and looks at mitochondrial activity within the tissue.
- Cerebral Spinal Fluid: a sample of cerebral spinal fluid is analysed for cerebral CoQ10 levels when considering neurodegenerative diseases.
Recommended dosages for supplementation
CoQ10 dosage within supplements ranges from 90mg to 200mg. It’s recommended that any supplement is taken with food containing a source of fat to help with absorption.
It is important to consult your local GP before starting any supplementation program as this compound can interact with other medications.
Side effects of CoQ10 supplements
CoQ10 appears to be tolerable in even high doses (up to 1200mg), however some studies have shown a small number of patients experiencing side effects.
These can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Skin irritation
If any of these symptoms persist, it is always best to contact your local health practitioner.
Getting enough CoQ10 on a plant-based diet
Our body naturally produces and stores coenzyme Q10 but this starts to reduce as we age. Fortunately, there are a range of food sources that contain this compound.
The main food sources are organ meats such as beef kidneys or chicken liver.
However, there are several food sources that can provide CoQ10 on a plant-based diet.
- Best sources: extra virgin olive oil, corn oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil, peanuts
- Good sources: walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, avocado, sesame oil, sesame seeds, broccoli, parsley, soybeans
- Moderate sources: sweet potato, cabbage, garlic, spinach, asparagus, tofu, orange, strawberries, apple, banana
As CoQ10 is a compound that is drawn to fats, it is not surprising that the best sources for vegans are foods rich in fats and oils.
Plant-based day on a plate
To ensure you’re eating enough CoQ10 from a range of food sources regularly, here is an example of what this may look like in a day:
Tofu scramble served on sourdough toast with baked beans and sautéed garlic mushrooms sprinkled with diced parsley
Avocado, beetroot and walnut salad with extra virgin olive oil and citrus dressing
Tempeh and veggie stir fry cooked in sesame oil with broccoli, cabbage, capsicum and snow peas sprinkled with sesame seeds
Handful of mixed nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts) plant-based yoghurt and orange wedges
Should you supplement CoQ10 on a plant based diet?
Most dietary sources of CoQ10 come from animal-based origins, but there isn’t strong evidence to show that vegans are more likely to develop a deficiency.
There are several other reasons why someone might be at risk of deficiency and consider taking a supplement.
As it is important for normal cell function and reducing oxidative stress, those who are deficient may experience varying health conditions. Some factors contributing to deficiency include:
- Age: mitochondrial activity decreases as we age resulting in lower production of CoQ10.
- Genetic defects: as the majority of CoqQ10 is made within the body, genetic defects can interfere with production.
- Medications: statin medications (cholesterol-lowering) can reduce levels. Other medications may interact with CoQ10 however there is limited data at this stage.
- Fibromyalgia: this chronic syndrome causes extensive muscle pain, fatigue, migraines and joint stiffness. There is a link between fibromyalgia and low levels of CoQ10.
Ubiquinol vs CoQ10 (Ubiquinone) – What’s the difference?
When comparing supplements or reading about CoQ10, there may be different names that appear. Ubiquinol accounts for the majority of active CoQ10 within the blood. This means it is the preferred source for many of its functions in the body.
Ubiquinone is the oxidised form which means it needs an additional step to convert to ubiquinol. However, CoQ10 can easily swap between forms as needed within the body, so supplements in either form may be equally effective.
CoQ10 is an important compound with many roles within the body. It is important to consider CoQ10 on a plant based diet, however it can be found in a variety of foods on a plant-based diet, and those following a plant-based diet are not at higher risk of deficiency.
Using supplements may be helpful for certain conditions, although research is still ongoing. We have made small breakthroughs to begin to understand how it can be used to treat a range of health conditions.
The takeaway message
Following a balanced diet and maintaining optimal health should allow your body to produce enough CoQ10.
Those with health conditions described above looking to explore treatment options through diet and/or supplements should contact their GP or book an appointment with a dietitian at Plant Nutrition and Wellness.
- DOI: 1080/10408390902773037
This blog was co-written by PNW Clinic founder Kiah Paetz and student dietitian Leanna Fyffe.