Coenzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring antioxidant that our bodies need for energy.

The antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found in most living things and is used by our cells to process energy and function properly. Naturally occurring CoQ10 decreases as we age, and according to the National Institutes of Health, several diseases and genetic disorders are associated with, but not necessarily caused by, low levels of CoQ10, including heart disease and some cancers.

CoQ10 is available as a supplement, but whether or not the supplement improves heart function or other health outcomes is somewhat controversial.

Here’s what you should know about this nutrient — both in its natural and supplement form.

Why Our Bodies Need CoQ10

Our cells use CoQ10 to help turn the energy we consume from carbohydrates into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the form of energy our cells can actually use to carry out many critical functions in the body. ATP is essential for healthy metabolism, bones, and neurological and muscle functioning.

CoQ10 also functions as an antioxidant with vitamins E and C and selenium to help prevent free radical damage to our cells, explains Roberta Anding, RD, CDE, a sports dietitian and an associate professor at the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Orthopedic Surgery in Houston and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

How Much CoQ10 We Need

The body naturally produces coenzyme Q10 in quantities sufficient to prevent deficiency, and no symptoms related to CoQ10 deficiency have been observed in the general population. About one-quarter of the CoQ10 in a person’s blood is believed to come from dietary sources, with the rest produced internally.

“Meat, poultry, and fish are the predominant food sources of coenzyme Q10,” Anding says. But amounts of the antioxidant in those foods are not high enough to significantly boost levels in the body.

Potential Health Benefits of CoQ10 Supplements

CoQ10 is available as a dietary supplement in several forms, including hard shell and soft gel capsules, an oral spray, and tablets. And while there is some evidence that CoQ10 supplements may help a number of diseases, other research has yielded conflicting results. That means more studies need to be done to reach conclusions about who might benefit most from taking a CoQ10 supplement — whether to treat or prevent various diseases.

For example, CoQ10 supplements are commonly prescribed to people taking cholesterol-lowering statins who complain about muscle pain, Anding notes. And while several small studies support the use of CoQ10 supplements for this purpose, two more recent studies found contradictory evidence. A randomized trial followed 120 patients taking statins for high cholesterol. Muscle pain was confirmed in just over a third of the patients (by comparing muscle pain associated with the statin use with muscle pain associated with a placebo drug). For those patients who did have muscle pain, CoQ10 supplements did not help, according to the trial data, published in the February 2015 issue of Atherosclerosis.

A meta-analysis of several randomized controlled trials found no significant benefit for improving individuals’ muscle pain associated with statin use, but concluded larger, better-designed trials were needed to confirm that. That research was published in the January 2015 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

So far, according to the Mayo Clinic, other potentially promising uses for CoQ10 supplements (with varying levels of supporting evidence) include:

  • Helping treat high blood pressure and heart failure
  • Enhancing immune system function in people with HIV or AIDS
  • Improving symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Reducing high cholesterol levels in the blood
  • Assisting in the treatment of cancer or the protection of organs from toxic chemotherapy drugs
  • Treating gum disease
  • Treating age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes vision loss in older adults
  • Helping patients with Alzheimer’s disease
  • Treating Parkinson’s disease
  • Increasing sperm count and motility
  • Preventing or treating migraine headaches