Ubiquinone - also known as Coenzyme Q10 - is a dietary supplement used by many to reduce the effects of aging. But a new study by researchers from McGill University in Canada suggests the supplement may offer no such benefits.
Study leader Prof. Siegfried Hekimi, of the Department of Biology at McGill, and his team publish their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ubiquinone is a naturally occurring, fat-like substance present in all cells in the body. Mitochondria - structures inside cells - use ubiquinone to convert energy from nutrients and oxygen into energy that cells can use.
According to Prof. Hekimi and colleagues, past research has suggested ubiquinone is also an antioxidant - a substance that can reduce damage to cell components, such as the cell membrane and DNA - caused by free radicals.
Since free radicals are believed to contribute to the aging process, ubiquinone has been hailed by many as a dietary supplement that can slow this process with its antioxidant properties, with some studies suggesting it can improve skin roughness and wrinkles.
But according to the results of this latest study, ubiquinone may have no anti-aging benefits at all.
Ubiquinone 'can't possibly act as previously believed'
To reach their findings, the team developed a strain of mice in which they were gradually able to erase ubiquinone completely, before restoring the substance to normal levels.
As expected, the researchers found that lack of ubiquinone caused the mice to become very ill and resulted in early death. This is because the mitochondria in the cells of the mice had no ubiquinone allowing them to convert energy.
However, while ubiquinone deficiency led to early death in the mice, the researchers witnessed no increased cell damage as a result of free radicals, suggesting that ubiquinone does not play a role in aging. As such, the substance is unlikely to have antioxidant properties.
Commenting on these results, Prof. Hekimi says:
"Our findings show that one of the major anti-aging antioxidant supplements used by people can't possibly act as previously believed.
Dietary supplements cost a lot of money to patients throughout the world - money that would be better spent on healthy food. What's more, the hope for a quick fix makes people less motivated to undertake appropriate lifestyle changes."
As well as challenging the anti-aging benefits of ubiquinone, the team says their findings offer a better understanding of how important the substance is to mitochondrial function. This could open the door to new treatments for people with mitochondrial diseases - such as muscular dystrophy.
"Many patients are sick because their mitochondria don't work properly, including because they don't contain enough ubiquinone," explains Prof. Hekimi. "We'll be using the results of this study to devise ways, and possibly new drugs, to boost ubiquinone levels or help residual ubiquinone to function effectively in defective mitochondria."
Last month, Medical News Today published a Spotlight that looked at the benefits and risks of three-parent IVF - a form of assisted reproductive technology that has recently been passed into UK law, after researchers demonstrated it could be an effective preventive strategy for mitochondrial diseases.