Biggest benefit: A strong heart
CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance that’s an essential part of the biochemical chain that forms adenosine triphosphate (ATP). A complex molecule, ATP contains high-energy bonds that the body uses to power every single one of its functions. In other words, ATP is the primary energy currency of the cell. “Without CoQ10, ATP would not be created, and you would not be able to walk, breathe, pump the heart or survive at all,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The cells that have the highest concentration of CoQ10 are those with the greatest energy demands, such as ones found in the heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas.
CoQ10 also works as an antioxidant, protecting cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. “In this regard, CoQ10 is on the level of vitamin E and vitamin C,” says Kleiner. CoQ10 has been recognized for over a decade for its ability to help treat heart conditions like congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. A study published in Cardiovascular Drugs and Therapy found that people who took daily CoQ10 supplements within three days of a heart attack were significantly less likely to experience another heart attack and less likely to die of heart disease than those who didn’t receive the supplements. “Since heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, it’s important that we get enough CoQ10,” says Katherine Mone, RD, clinical dietitian in the preventive cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic.
CoQ10’s benefits don’t stop at the heart. Some research has shown that many patients with hypertension have a CoQ10 deficiency; once that’s fixed, their blood pressure can fall by a small but significant amount. What’s more, taking this micronutrient as a supplement may slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease: In a multicenter, double-blind trial published in the Archives of Neurology, patients in the early stages of the disease who received CoQ10 had 44 percent less deterioration in cognitive function, mood, activities of daily living and motor skills than those who were given a placebo.
Who’s falling short: People taking statin drugs
These popular cholesterol-lowering drugs inhibit the internal production of CoQ10. In addition, the ability to absorb and synthesize CoQ10 diminishes as we age, which puts people over 65 at risk for a deficiency.
The fix: Although CoQ10 is found in small amounts in foods like red meat, fish and chicken, it’s tough to get enough from your diet. If you take statins, Greenfield recommends supplementing your diet with 60 to 100 milligrams of CoQ10 a day. The micronutrient is absorbed best in gelcap form, taken at mealtime with a bit of fat. But make sure you get the go-ahead from your doctor: CoQ10 can interfere with certain medications, like blood thinners.
Power nutrient: Potassium
Biggest benefit: Optimal blood pressure
When there’s a tight balance between the potassium that’s inside cells and the sodium that’s outside them, crucial fluids can move easily in and out of cells. A shortage of potassium throws off this important “partnership,” says Kleiner. For instance, when you have too little potassium in your bloodstream, your heart muscles work less efficiently; your blood vessels compensate by constricting, which increases their pumping ability—and raises your blood pressure. On the other hand, people who consume a diet high in potassium and low in sodium can experience a real health boost. A study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that subjects with the most potassium relative to sodium intake had the lowest risk of dying from heart attack or stroke over a period of almost 15 years.
Who’s falling short: Pretty much all of us