Every one of the cells in the human body needs a way to provide energy to power the functions of the cell. Each healthy cell has numerous mitochondria, tiny little cellular power plants that produce most of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) used as a source of chemical energy in the body. The natural enzyme CoQ10 is critical to operation of mitochondria to produce ATP, but when oxygen levels are low CoQ10 acts to create many damaging free radicals.
An alternative synthetic form of CoQ10 known as idebenone has been found to not suffer from the low-oxygen induced increase in free radical production. It is being investigated for treatment of numerous diseases, especially of the cardiovascular and nervous systems in organs such as the heart and brain.
Necessity of CoQ10 for ATP Production
For mitochondria to do their jobs, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is necessary to produce ATP. Yet some medicines such as statins and dietary supplements such as red yeast rice (both are used for reducing cholesterol levels) deplete stores of CoQ10. Statins have been found to lower blood serum levels of CoQ10 by up to 40%. This can result in a variety of side effects such as muscle weakness, fatigue, and confusion. As a result, CoQ10 (typically as ubiquinone or ubiquinol) supplements have been increasingly recommended for people taking those medicines and supplements. They are also often recommended for people in their 30s and older and CoQ10 levels fall with age.
About 95% of the energy used in the human body is produced in processes involving CoQ10 and mitochondria. The organs with the highest energy requirements, for instance the heart and liver, tend to have the highest number of mitochondria (up to around 2500 per cell) and highest CoQ10 concentrations. These also tend to be organs that often suffer from disease.
CoQ10 Supplements Not Well Absorbed
Unfortunately, CoQ10 supplements are often poorly absorbed in the human gastrointestinal system. Absorption works similarly to vitamin E and other lipid-soluble nutrients are poorly soluble in water. Oil-based softgel capsules using ingredients such as lecithin have been found to improve bioavailability of CoQ10. Others have attempted to improve the water solubility of CoQ10 with mixed results. If you buy CoQ10, consider that the form you get could mean that a poorly-absorbed 200mg softgel could be less effective than a well-absorbed 100mg softgel.
Idebenone’s Advantages over CoQ10
Idebenone is a synthetic version of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Idebenone can take its place both as an energy-producing coenzyme for mitochondria and as an antioxidant. In oxygen-deprived situations such as heavy exercise and strokes, research shows that idebenone does not produce as many damaging free radicals. This is particularly important in mitochondria because the rapid pace of biochemical activity tends to damage mitochondia via oxidation. The damage even spreads to the mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) that control how the mitochondria operate, causing some number of the future generations of mitochondria in the body to operate poorly or not at all. This problem of damage caused by oxidation to the mitochondria is involved in both the free-radical theory of aging and the related mitochondrial theory of aging.
Idebenone has not been studied as thoroughly as CoQ10, so some think continued use of CoQ10 is preferable. However, idebenone does have more than 15 years of research behind it. Although it is still primarily fat-soluble, it is more water-soluble than CoQ10 and therefore is believed to be more readily absorbed and spread throughout the body. It is known to be both a good antioxidant and to avoid the pro-oxidation behavior of CoQ10 that causes large production of damaging free radicals in oxygen-deprived body tissues. As such, there is interest in the use of idebenone in conjunction with other antioxidants to reduce the presence of free radicals in the body. According to the free-radical theory of aging, large reductions of free radicals could slow aging of the body. Consequently, some refer to idebenone as an “anti-aging supplement” and prefer idebenone supplementation over CoQ10 supplementation.
Others advise supplementing with both CoQ10 and idebenone as a more cautious choice. The writings of James South, a well-reputed writer on nutrition and aging topics prior to his death, advocate a good starting point is 100mg of CoQ10 plus 90mg idebenone for a daily dose.
More Idebenone Benefits
Other benefits claimed by researchers for idebenone include:
- Improves performance during heavy exercise
- Counters hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Useful in treatment of the heart disorder Friedreich’s ataxia
- Quenches free radicals as antioxidant 30 to 100 times more effective than vitamin E and vinpocetine within the brain
- Helps reduce brain damage from stroke or hypoxia
- Protects from excitatory amino acid neurotoxicity
- Promotes NGF (nerve growth factor) in the brain
- Reduces tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Reduces wrinkles in aging skin
- Helps preserve human livers for transplant
Research to date has not found serious side effects for idebenone at levels studied from about 45mg to 270mg to day spread over one to three doses per day. Some have noted gastrointestinal upset, headaches, and changes (usually a reduction) in sleepiness. These are common side effects for nearly any medication or dietary supplement that often go away with dose adjustment and time.
Thus it appears idebenone is generally safe at such levels at 45mg to 270mg per day. The side effects most often noted generally have to do with effect on sleep and energy levels. But some would not characterize these as side-effects, instead thinking of them as intended effects.
Points to Consider Regarding Idebenone Supplements
Idebenone is fat-soluble, so it’s best consumed with a fat-rich meal. Or you can combine it with other dietary supplements with lipids such as lecithin, flax seed oil, and fish oils.
Some who have tried it say that taking it late in the day makes it harder to fall asleep. So taking it with breakfast might be a good idea.
Recommended dosages vary from 45mg to 500mg per day. They seem to be specific to individuals, so when starting idebenone ramping from low to higher dosages until effect is noticed is probably a good strategy for most people.
People who have taken idebenone have made comments like these about their experiences:
- Helps reduce my heart rate during exercise by about 15-20 bpm
- Idebenone’s effect doesn’t fall apart under heavy exercise like CoQ10’s effect does
- Boosts my mood and stamina
- 25 grams of idebenone powder lasted about 5 months
- Helps my anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds work better
- Boosts my focus and mental energy
- Tough to measure small doses, need a 1/32 teaspoon scoop
- Along with omega 3 fish oils, helped correct my irregular heartbeat
- Tastes bitter as a powder, if it bothers you then use capsules
- Takes a few hours to show its effect
- Great with ALCAR (acetylcarnitine) as it helps cut free radical production from ALCAR
- Started at 1/4 teaspoon daily and now take 1/4 teaspoon twice per day, lower dosages may not get full effect
- Taking 45 to 90mg in the mornings has improved my skin, energy, and mood
- Should take it with NAC (N-acetylcysteine) at 600mg per day to offset increased free radical production
- Keeps me awake if I take it too late in the day
- Helps me fall asleep, so I take it before bedtime
Some of the comments, especially the ones about sleep effects and dosage, contradict each other. Dietary supplements have different effects on different people because biochemisty varies from person to person. We’d suggest starting with small dosages at varying times of the day to see what the effect may be before ramping up to larger dosages at specific times of the day. From our review of comments and research, it appears the common effect is to increase energy and wakefulness so the comments about taking it earlier in the day seem reasonable.
However, some people attribute similar alertness and energy effects to DMAE yet take it before going to sleep and it helps them sleep better, possibly by helping the brain product more acetylcholine while they are asleep, resulting in more dreaming and waking up feeling more rested.
In the literature on idebenone, there is frequent mention of “stacking” idebenone with N-acetylcysteine at one dose of 600mg or two doses of 600mg for a total of 1200mg. NAC is an antioxidant that better survives the stomach acid environment than many other forms of cysteine, and as a sulfur-containing compound it helps the body make more glutathione which is a critical antioxidant throughout the body. We’ve previously covered some benefits of NAC in relation to protection from poisoning by acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol and Tylenol) by boosting glutathione production, so if you’re curious you might want to read that article.
Also often mentioned is taking acetyl L-carnitine (ALCAR) at doses of 1000mg to 4000mg per day spread over two to four times per day. There is mixed opinion as to whether acetyl L-carnitine or L-carnitine is better absorbed, but they are generally believed to have similar effects as the body can convert L-carnitine to acetyl L-carnitine. L-carnitine is generally less expensive from most vendors.
Idebenone is not as widely sold as many other dietary supplements, so you’re unlikely to find it in your supermarket or department store. Here are some links to products that are competitively priced.
Smart Nutrition offers idebenone in containers of 60 capsules of 45mg and 30 capsules of 150mg at $29.95 and $39.95 respectively. Bulk prices for orders of 4 bottles go down to $24.00 and $34.00 per bottle, and for 12 bottles to $20.00 and $28.00 per bottle.
Capsules obviously have some advantages in terms of portability and pre-measured dosages over powders. However, even a bulk discounted price on capsules is significantly higher than powder.
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