David Leonardi, M.D. ABAAM, CNS

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The Role of CoQ10 in Cellular Energy Production

The Role of CoQ10 in Cellular Energy Production
David Leonardi, M.D., ABAAM, CNS

You’ll notice that this is my only article that’s not referenced. That’s because the electron transport chain is accepted doctrine and what you’ll read below is standard biochemistry found in all good biochemistry texts and taught in all college biochemistry classes.

Bullet Points

• Our cells need energy in the form of a compound called ATP. They make ATP by “burning” sugar (glucose) or fat, extracting the energy and using it to make ATP. This describes the two pathways used to burn glucose for energy: the Krebs Cycle and the electron transport chain.

• Cells burn glucose in the Krebs Cycle to produce NADH and FADH2. The energy from burning the glucose is stored in these compounds in the form of high-energy electrons.

• These two molecules donate high-energy electrons to the electron transport chain.

• The energy from the electrons is used to pump protons (positively charged ions) all to one side of a membrane, against their electric gradient. These protons want very badly to go back across the membrane with the gradient until the charge is neutral (equal protons on each side of the membrane). So they are now the source of the stored energy that was originally extracted from the glucose.

• There is only one way back through the membrane – through a gate called ATP synthase. ATP synthase is a large complex molecule much like a machine. It contains a structure similar to that of a wind turbine that can rotate. As the protons pass through the turbine, they cause it to rotate and this rotation takes low-energy ADP (a di-phosphate) and combines it with an additional phosphate to make high-energy ATP (a tri-phosphate).

• ATP is what cells use for energy to carry out the functions that support life, including the contraction of muscle.

• The electron transport chain is highly dependent upon CoQ10 (an engineer within the chain).

• CoQ10 levels are depleted by statins up to 40% and can be replenished by supplementing CoQ10.

• That’s why CoQ10 is 1 of the 3 key ingredients of Statin Sidekick™.


Coenzyme Q10 is critically important in energy production because it is a member of the electron transport chain. Like a factory worker on an assembly line, CoQ10 is required in order to produce ATP, the molecule necessary for muscle cell function. Statins, by blocking the enzyme most responsible for cholesterol production (HMG CoA reductase), also block CoQ10 production because it uses the same enzyme (HMG CoA reductase). Here is a brief overview of energy production in cells, including muscle and brain cells.

We begin with the Krebs cycle, also called the citric acid cycle. This sequence of chemical reactions burns glucose (sugar) to produce two types of high-energy molecules: NADH and FADH2. These molecules are then used in the electron transport chain to create ATP (energy). It is in the electron transport chain that CoQ10 is so essential. If you’re interested, here is a description of how the electron transport chain works.

• NADH and FADH2 molecules, created from the Krebs cycle, can donate high-energy electrons to the electron transport chain by a process called oxidation.

• The electrons are transported across a series of transition molecules, one of which is our friend, CoQ10.  As they pass from one molecule to another (including CoQ10), the electrons actually donate their high energy to the transition molecules.

• That energy is used to pump protons (positively charged ions) across the inner mitochondrial membrane, against a gradient. Pumping them all to one side of the membrane against the gradient creates a strong potential energy because they all want to get back to the other side (to a neutral charge). Positive ions repel each other and they’re also strongly attracted to negative ions, so they want very badly to cross back over to a more negative side of the membrane.

• But the membrane is impermeable to these protons. The only way they can get  back across to the negative side is through a special gate called ATP synthase. ATP synthase is actually a very large protein molecule. As these high energy protons pass through ATP synthase they literally rotate a turbine-like structure within ATP synthase.

•  As the turbine spins, it pushes two molecules together: a low energy molecule called adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a phosphate molecule.  These two molecules then combine to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  ATP is loaded with energy!

• The muscle cell then uses the high energy ATP to contract to move us and brain cells use ATP to communicate (think!).

If you’d like to see a brilliant video on the electron transport chain, go to www.KhanAcademy.org  and search “electron transport chain”. Or simply click this link: http://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/cellular-respiration/v/electron-transport-chain

Khan Academy is a free sight that offers terrific education videos. Your kids might want to use it to supplement their school work. It’s so helpful it’s almost like cheating! To shorten the time spent on the electron transport chain video, you might slide the progress button ahead to the 6:00 minute mark. That’s where it focuses on the sequence outlined above. At 6:00 you’ll see CoQ10 on the chalkboard and learn about how the transport chain works. It’s fun stuff (at least for us science nerds).

© Copyright David Leonardi, M.D. All rights reserved. 2020