CoQ10, an antioxidant, may help to treat Friedreich’s ataxia: Review

Studies of supplement's use have shown benefits, but more work is needed

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an antioxidant that occurs naturally in the body and is found in some foods, may help to treat Friedreich’s ataxia and other neurological diseases, according to a review article.

The review, “Involvement of Coenzyme Q10 in Various Neurodegenerative and Psychiatric Diseases,” was published in Biochemistry Research International by a team of researchers in Iran.

CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance that helps the body work well and stay healthy. It also helps mitochondria, the cells’ powerhouses, to produce energy and counteracts oxidation by scavenging harmful molecules, preventing damage.

For these reasons, it is possible that “CoQ10 may protect the neurological system from degeneration and degradation due to its antioxidant and energy-regulating activity in mitochondria,” the researchers wrote.

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CoQ10 given as supplement, often with vitamin E, to Friedreich’s ataxia patients

Published work, they noted, “has shown its efficacy in preventing and treating neurological diseases such as migraine, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Friedreich’s ataxia.” The scientists looked into studies of the supplement’s use in these conditions to highlight the benefits reported.

Friedreich’s ataxia is caused by mutations in FXN, the gene providing instructions for making a protein called frataxin. Within cells, frataxin is needed for the healthy functioning of mitochondria.

When frataxin is missing, mitochondria appear unable to produce enough energy to supply cells in the brain, spinal cord, and muscles, damaging them and leading to the disease’s symptoms.

One study in 50 patients found low blood levels of CoQ10 in many of them. CoQ10 supplements given  in combination with vitamin E eased symptoms for nearly half of these people, seen through score improvements on the International Co-operative Ataxia Ratings Scale.

“CoQ10 and vitamin E supplementation modified the disease progression,” the researchers wrote.

Oral idebenone, a synthetic (lab made) antioxidant that is similar in structure to CoQ10, also was reported to show benefits in treating cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) occurring as a result of Friedreich’s ataxia.

Likewise, treatment with CoQ10 and vitamin E increased energy production in the muscles of a number of patients who took part in a small, six-month study. At a follow-up four years later, these 10 people showed better heart function and slower disease progression, but these changes were not statistically significant.

“The effects of CoQ10 seem to be limited in this condition,” wrote the researchers, urging more work into a better understanding of the relationship between frataxin and CoQ10. “Finding the link … will be the key in handling this disease in the future.”

CoQ10 may bring “favorable responses in different diseases, especially those related to aging, including neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and depression,” the researchers wrote.

“However, further support for clinical investigations is required to determine the roles and impacts of CoQ10 in different conditions,” they concluded.