Ubiquinone, also known as coenzyme Q10, is an antioxidant compound found in the cells of all higher animals. More specifically, it makes its home inside the mitochondria of cells where it's involved in generating ATP, the energy currency that drives all cells. Because it's important for energy production, it's present in greatest amounts in organs that have high energy requirements like the heart, kidney and liver. ATP not only provides the energy needed for the function of organs like the heart, it powers all muscle movements.
Ubiquinone is vital for cellular energy production, but it's also a potent antioxidant that protects cells against the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons generated by cells when they're exposed to oxygen. These unpaired electrons "grab onto" structures inside cells and damage them. This is believed to play a role in aging and may contribute to certain diseases such as cancer. Ubiquinone helps to keep free radicals from doing their damage by donating electrons to them, rendering them harmless. It also has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C.
Since ubiquinone is a such a powerful antioxidant, some research suggests taking it as a supplement may treat or help to prevent certain diseases or even slow down the aging process. Levels of coenzyme Q10 decrease with age and are lower in people who have certain health problems like cancer or heart disease. Some medications like statins used for lowering cholesterol decrease ubiquinone levels. That's why doctors often recommend coenzyme Q10 or ubiquinone supplements to people taking these drugs. In addition, preliminary evidence suggests that ubiquinone is beneficial for treating migraine headaches, Parkinson's disease and heart failure. It also lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels, making it useful for those with hypertension and diabetes. There's ongoing research looking at its potential to prevent or treat cancer. Many health food stores sell ubiquinone as an oral supplement. Food sources of ubiquinone include fish, game meats and whole grains, although diet isn't a significant source of coenzyme Q10. That's why supplements are a popular way to get this antioxidant compound.
As an antioxidant, topical ubiquinone also offers skin anti-aging benefits. When skin is exposed to sunlight, it generates free radicals that damage collagen and elastin, two proteins that give skin its support and ability to "bounce back." This is one of the ways sun exposure causes skin to age prematurely. Ubiquinone has the advantage of being able to penetrate the epidermis of the skin. This allows it to reach the dermis where it blocks the production of an enzyme called collagenase that breaks down collagen.
Because ubiquinone protects skin against damage due to sun exposure and prevents the breakdown of collagen, some cosmetic manufacturers and makers of skin care products are adding it to their products. Some products that contain this powerful antioxidant are facial moisturizers, eye creams, sunscreens and other anti-aging skin care products. When using products that contain ubiquinone, it's best to choose products that are packed in opaque bottles since some antioxidants break down when they're exposed to light. When used and stored properly, topical antioxidants like ubiquinone may provide extra protection against the aging effects of free radicals, although it doesn't replace the need for a sunscreen. Fortunately, some sunscreens include ubiquinone or coenzyme Q10 as an ingredient.
Is it safe? Coenzyme Q10 appears to be safe as an oral supplement, although some people experience a drop in blood pressure or blood sugar levels while taking it. It can also cause minor digestive upset, insomnia and headache, although this isn't common. People who take blood thinners shouldn't take it orally without consulting their doctor first. Ubiquinone appears to be safe in quantities found in skin care products and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Cosmetics Database classifies it as a low hazard cosmetic ingredient. Unlike some topical antioxidants like vitamin C, ubiquinone doesn't frequently cause skin irritation or redness.
All in all, ubiquinone is a potent antioxidant that helps to protect cells against damage. It has benefits both as an oral supplement and as an ingredient in cosmetics and skin care products formulated for more mature skin. It also has an excellent safety profile.