Table of Contents
Overall Level of Evidence for Coenzyme Q10
Changes to This Summary (01/11/2005)
This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of coenzyme Q10 in cancer therapy. The summary includes a history of coenzyme Q10 research, a review of laboratory studies, and data from investigations involving human subjects. Although several naturally occurring forms of coenzyme Q have been identified, Q10 is the predominant form found in humans and most mammals, and it is the form most studied for therapeutic potential. Thus, it will be the only form of coenzyme Q discussed in this summary.
This summary contains the following key information:
- Coenzyme Q10 is made naturally by the human body.
- Coenzyme Q10 helps cells to produce energy, and it acts as an antioxidant.
- Coenzyme Q10 has shown an ability to stimulate the immune system and to protect the heart from damage caused by certain chemotherapy drugs.
- Low blood levels of coenzyme Q10 have been detected in patients with some types of cancer.
- No report of a randomized clinical trial of coenzyme Q10 as a treatment for cancer has been published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal.
- Coenzyme Q10 is marketed in the United States as a dietary supplement.
Many of the medical and scientific terms used in the summary are hypertext linked (at first use in each section) to the Cancer.gov Dictionary, which is oriented toward nonexperts. When a linked term is clicked, a definition will appear in a separate window. All linked terms and their corresponding definitions will appear in a glossary in the printable version of the summary.
Reference citations in some PDQ CAM information summaries may include links to external Web sites that are operated by individuals or organizations for the purpose of marketing or advocating the use of specific treatments or products. These reference citations are included for informational purposes only. Their inclusion should not be viewed as an endorsement of the content of the Web sites or of any treatment or product by the PDQ Cancer CAM Editorial Board or NCI.
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Coenzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10, Q10, vitamin Q10, ubiquinone, and ubidecarenone) is a benzoquinone compound synthesized naturally by the human body. The “Q” and the “10” in the name refer to the quinone chemical group and the 10 isoprenyl chemical subunits, respectively, that are part of this compound’s structure. The term “coenzyme” denotes it as an organic (contains carbon atoms), nonprotein molecule necessary for the proper functioning of its protein partner (an enzyme or an enzyme complex). Coenzyme Q10 is used by cells of the body in a process known variously as aerobic respiration, aerobic metabolism, oxidative metabolism, or cell respiration. Through this process, energy for cell growth and maintenance is created inside cells in compartments called mitochondria. Reviewed in [1-4] Coenzyme Q10 is also used by the body as an endogenous antioxidant. Reviewed in [1,2,4-8] An antioxidant is a substance that protects cells from free radicals, which are highly reactive chemicals, often containing oxygen atoms, capable of damaging important cellular components such as DNA and lipids. In addition, the plasma level of coenzyme Q10 has been used, in studies, as a measure of oxidative stress (a situation in which normal antioxidant levels are reduced).[9,10]
Coenzyme Q10 is present in most tissues, but the highest concentrations are found in the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and the pancreas. The lowest concentration is found in the lungs. Tissue levels of this compound decrease as people age, due to increased requirements, decreased production, or insufficient intake of the chemical precursors needed for synthesis. Reviewed in  In humans, normal blood levels of coenzyme Q10 have been defined variably, with reported normal values ranging from 0.30 to 3.84 µg/mL.[13,14] Reviewed in [2,4]
Given the importance of coenzyme Q10 to optimal cellular energy production, use of this compound as a treatment for diseases other than cancer has been explored. Most of these investigations have focused on coenzyme Q10 as a treatment for cardiovascular disease. Reviewed in [2,4] In patients with cancer, coenzyme Q10 has been shown to protect the heart from anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity (anthracyclines are a family of chemotherapy drugs, including doxorubicin, that have the potential to damage the heart)[3,16-18] and to stimulate the immune system. Reviewed in  Stimulation of the immune system by this compound has also been observed in animal studies and in humans without cancer.[21-27] In part because of its immunostimulatory potential, coenzyme Q10 has been used as an adjuvant therapy in patients with various types of cancer.[17,28-30] Reviewed in [20,31-33]
While coenzyme Q10 may show indirect anticancer activity through its effect(s) on the immune system, there is evidence to suggest that analogs of this compound can suppress cancer growth directly. Analogs of coenzyme Q10 have been shown to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells in vitro and the growth of cancer cells transplanted into rats and mice.[12,34] In view of these findings, it has been proposed that analogs of coenzyme Q10 may function as antimetabolites to disrupt normal biochemical reactions that are required for cell growth and/or survival and, thus, that they may be useful for short periods of time as chemotherapeutic agents.[12,34]
Several companies distribute coenzyme Q10 as a dietary supplement. In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs. Therefore, premarket evaluation and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are not required unless specific disease prevention or treatment claims are made. The FDA can, however, remove from the market dietary supplements that it deems unsafe. Because dietary supplements are not formally reviewed for manufacturing consistency, there may be considerable variation from lot to lot. It should be noted that the FDA has not approved coenzyme Q10 for the treatment of cancer or any other medical condition.
To conduct clinical drug research in the United States, researchers must file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA. The IND application process is highly confidential, and IND information can be disclosed only by the applicants. To date, no investigators have announced that they have applied for an IND to study coenzyme Q10 as a treatment for cancer.
In animal studies, coenzyme Q10 has been administered by injection (intravenous, intraperitoneal, intramuscular, or subcutaneous). In humans, it is usually taken orally as a pill (tablet or capsule), but intravenous infusions have been given. Coenzyme Q10 is absorbed best with fat; therefore, lipid preparations are better absorbed than the purified compound. Reviewed in [2,4] In human studies, supplementation doses and administration schedules have varied, but usually have been in the range of 90 to 390 mg/day.
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- Complementary treatments highlighted at recent meeting. Oncology (Huntingt) 13 (2): 166, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
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- Barbieri B, Lund B, Lundström B, et al.: Coenzyme Q10 administration increases antibody titer in hepatitis B vaccinated volunteers--a single blind placebo-controlled and randomized clinical study. Biofactors 9 (2-4): 351-7, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
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This information is intended mainly for use by doctors and other health care professionals. If you have questions about this topic, you can ask your doctor, or call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).