'Wonder drug' CoQ-10 has hype, no proof

On Call

November 05, 1996|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two of my friends are talking coenzyme Q10 pills for their anginal chest pain and have urged me to do the same. Does coenzyme Q10 improve angina?

CoQ-10, or coenzyme Q10, made almost exclusively in Japan and formulated into products by a number of manufacturers in this country, is available in health food stores where it is currently one of their hottest sellers. Widely promoted as a wonder drug to treat or prevent many disorders including angina, heart failure, high blood pressure, cancer, AIDS, asthma, Alzheimer's disease and obesity, CoQ-10 is an antioxidant, like vitamins E and C. But, in fact, there is no convincing evidence that CoQ-10 relieves the pain of angina or is useful for the treatment or prevention of any disorder.

Quite frankly, any product extensively advertised as a breakthrough for treating many different and unrelated diseases should raise a red flag in your mind, especially when the claims for its effectiveness are not supported by careful research.

Also known as ubiquinone, CoQ-10 is present in small amounts in many foods and is manufactured in almost all cells of the body; it is an essential cofactor in the conversion of food components into energy within a cellular organelle, the mitochondria. Studies done almost 25 years ago showed that CoQ-10 levels were reduced in the hearts of patients with heart failure. This finding led to a short-term trial that showed that daily supplements of CoQ-10 were associated with some symptomatic improvement in a small number of patients with heart failure.

Subsequent studies on the effects of CoQ-10 supplements in heart failure patients have been inconclusive, however, because the studies had no control group or involved too few patients for too short a time. Moreover, it was never clear that lower levels of CoQ-10 in the hearts of these patients had any effect on their disease, and no study has shown that supplements increase the level of CoQ-10 in the heart or any other tissue.

Although apparently harmless, CoQ-1O does have a negative impact on your pocketbook.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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