There is some surprising anecdotal evidence that CoQ10 — at very high doses — may be of real benefit in treating cancer. It all happened 30 years ago, and was never taken up by a pharmaceutical company and properly researched, so it remains little-known about.
The explanation lies in the nature of cancer cells, which cannot use oxygen as efficiently as healthy cells, and so use 10 times as much sugar for energy instead. CoQ10 probably helps to repair oxygen use. It all makes sense but we have yet to prove it or measure it; if I had cancer, taking CoQ10 is one of the first things I would do — the othe, of course, is cutting out sugar and carbs.
Mitochondria, the “batteries” inside every cell, produce rapidly-available energy in the form of a molecule called ATP. The more work a cell does the more mitochondria it contains; heart muscle cells contain thousands of them. Mitochondria really are like batteries because they build up electrical charge, protons, in between the two layers of their membrane, and use that charge to drive a “motor”, the ATP-synthase molecule, that produces the ATP and rotates 120 degrees when it does so. The mitochondria use oxygen to drive the process, which makes them and the cells that contain them 18 times more efficient than cells without. Such cells are called aerobic.
This advantage comes at a price though, because it is, you could say, a controlled fire; this is the same oxygen that burns things in a fire, causes rust, and does oxidative damage to cells. Which is where CoQ10 comes in – it is a necessary molecule for handling electrons safely, and in doing so is constantly oxidised and de-oxidised (aka reduced). Nearly all the body’s CoQ10 is in the mitochondria.
Cancer cells work differently; they are more primitive, and most of their energy comes from sugars without using oxygen — i.e. they are anaerobic . This is known as the Warburg effect and was described in 1956, but just now scientists are getting very interested in it again, because we now understand much more about mitochondria. In cancerous cells the number and function of mitochondria are both reduced.
Mitochondria are also important in the triggering of apoptosis, programmed cell suicide, which is how the body normally gets rid of cells that it no longer needs or that may cause trouble. When mitochondria malfunction this can go wrong too. This gets somewhat chicken-and-egg; is cancer caused by poor mitochondrial oxygen handling, or does it cause it? Probably both, in fact , which makes it plausible that fixing mitochondria will “fix” cancer, and there are several instances in which this seems to be so; CoQ10 is one of them.
I am indebted to Dr Jim Howenstine for this part of the story, about Karl Folkers, who played a key role in the discovery of vitamin B12, and came close to a Nobel for it. In 1958 Folkers’ team confirmed the structure of Coenzyme Q10, and he became very interested in its therapeutic use, in both heart failure and neurological diseases. He followed 6 patients with cancer (4 lung, 2 breast) who were given CoQ10 500mgs/day for their congestive heart failure; all 6 experienced remissions of their cancer .
Folkers raised some money and funded a study by Dr K Lockwood ; the abstract tells the whole story (note the dosages in particular);
“32 patients having … breast cancer were treated with antioxidants, fatty acids, and 90 mg. of coenzyme Q10. Six of the 32 patients showed partial tumor regression. In one of these 6 cases, the dosage of coenzyme Q10 was increased to 390 mg. In one month, the tumor was no longer palpable and in another month, mammography confirmed the absence of tumor. Encouraged, another case having a verified breast tumor, after non-radical surgery and with verified residual tumor in the tumor bed was then treated with 300 mg coenzyme Q10. After 3 months, the patient was in excellent clinical condition and there was no residual tumor tissue.
In other words 90mg per day, which we would have regarded as a big dose, helped a little, but 300-400mg helped a lot — although the numbers studied are still very small.
There are a few more uncontrolled, anecdotal reports of tumour regression, eg in prostate cancer, and of increased survival time from many different cancers. Folkers died in 1997, but was around long enough to report a “striking” clinical response to CoQ10 in AIDS patients as well .
CoQ10 is another fat-soluble nutrient, so it is best-absorbed with a fatty food. We recommend opening the capsule up and mixing the contents into the Power Drink smoothie before blending for several minutes. Others have taken it in a warm milky tea. This high dose is expensive, at a current price of £136 for 60, but a bottle will last 2 months, and after 6 months (£400) if there is no discernible benefit I would certainly review, and probably stop it.
1. Gonzalez MJ et al. The bio-energetic theory of carcinogenesis. Med Hypotheses (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ j.mehy.2012.06.015
2. Seyfried and Shelton Nutrition & Metabolism 2010, 7:7 http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/7/1/7
4. Lockwood K., et al. Partial and complete regression of breast cancer in patients in relation to dosage of coenzyme Q10. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 1994; 199(3):1504-8.
5. Folkers, K., et al. Survival of cancer patients on therapy with coenzyme Q10. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 1993; 192(1):241-245.