CoQ10 and Fertility: Does It Help?
- CoQ10 is a vitamin-like antioxidant that supports cell functions by producing energy in the form of ATP and neutralizing free radicals
- Age-related declines in fertility are linked to increased oxidative stress and decreases in energy production over time
If you’re a woman in your late 30’s or 40’s who’s trying to conceive, you probably don’t need to be told that time is of the essence. (But don’t worry, your mother will tell you anyway). And unfortunately, she’s not wrong. That is, because a woman’s chances of conceiving start to decline around age 30, the longer you wait to get pregnant, the more difficult it will likely become.1 Blerg.
On a brighter note, research finds that certain dietary strategies can actually help support the chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy after 35.2–4 This article looks at how one such tactic—increasing coenzyme Q10 intake—can enhance a couple’s chances of reproductive success after 35.
CoQ10: What is it?
Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is a naturally-occurring substance found in virtually all cell membranes and mitochondria. For anyone who could use a little biology refresher, mitochondria are referred to as the “powerhouses” of cells because they generate most of the energy needed to power a cell’s biochemical reactions.5 This is made possible in part by CoQ10, which helps convert molecules from the food we eat into a chemical form of energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is often referred to as the “energy currency” of life because it provides energy for all of an organism’s cellular activities and can be stored up for future activities.6 As most cellular functions are dependent on an adequate supply of ATP, CoQ10 is essential for the health of virtually all human tissues and organs.
In addition to its role in ATP production, CoQ10 is also a powerful antioxidant. This means that it neutralizes free radicals—unstable molecules that can, in excess, cause damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA in the body.7–9 Free radicals are naturally formed by the body (for example, when we exercise or convert food to energy), but can also result from exposure to environmental sources such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, and sunlight.8,9
Notably, many health conditions linked to increased free radical generation have also been linked to decreased CoQ10 levels. This has led some to theorize that insufficient CoQ10 levels can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, and ultimately, a decrease in cellular energy and efficiency.7,10
So, what does CoQ10 have to do with pregnancy and fertility? Hang tight, we’re getting there.
The effects of aging on women’s reproductive capacity
Reproduction is an incredibly energy-demanding process that requires a tremendous amount of ATP.11 This is because oocytes (a nerdy term for immature egg cells) need high amounts of mitochondria and ATP to carry out important functions like egg maturation, fertilization, and embryonic development.12,13
Here is where the plot thickens for women over 35. As a woman reaches “advanced maternal age” (otherwise known as her mid-30’s), her ATP production and mitochondrial function start to decline.14 As a result, her chances of conceiving decline as well.15,16 This is evidenced by research linking impaired mitochondrial function in the eggs and ovaries with lower fertilization rates, lesser embryo quality, and lower rates of embryo implantation.17,18
And to complicate things further, because aging is associated with the increased generation of free radicals, women of a certain age also have the negative effects of oxidative stress to contend with.19 More specifically, oxidative stress negatively affects the quality of gametes (i.e., reproductive cells including egg and sperm), oocyte maturation, oocyte fertilization, sperm efficiency, and overall embryonic development.20–23 Double blerg.
CoQ10 may support mitochondrial health and reproduction
Alright, here is where COQ10 comes in. As we’ve noted, CoQ10 supports mitochondrial health by supplying cellular energy in the form of ATP and inhibiting the propagation of harmful free radicals. This has led some to question whether CoQ10 can help counteract ovarian aging by providing the energy required to carry out reproductive functions and by inhibiting the negative effects of oxidative stress.
In other words: Can supplementing with CoQ10 support egg quality and fertility by enabling older eggs to function more like younger eggs?
Let’s look at the science.
Research Studies Assessing CoQ10 ’s Benefits for Fertility
In a study assessing whether CoQ10 could improve fertility and mitochondrial performance in older female mice, researchers provided certain mice with CoQ10 prior to ovarian stimulation.24 Compared to the mice who didn’t receive CoQ10 (the control group), the supplemented mice produced more egg follicles and higher quality eggs. As a result, more pups were successfully born to mothers receiving CoQ10.24
Based on these outcomes, the researchers concluded that insufficient CoQ10 levels can lead to age-related deficits in oocyte quality and infertility, but that supplementation with CoQ10 can help restore mitochondrial activity and fertility.24 Great! But what about for us humans?
Clinical Research with Humans
To assess the effects of CoQ10 supplementation on human reproductive health, researchers provided female participants exhibiting poor ovarian response and reduced ovarian reserve (two biomarkers of female infertility) with 600 mg of CoQ10 supplements daily for two months prior to undergoing an in-vitro fertilization procedure.2 They found that the women who received CoQ10 supplementation had more oocytes retrieved during the in-vitro process, higher fertilization rates, and higher quality embryos than women who didn’t receive CoQ10. This would suggest that supplementation with CoQ10 can support reproductive function by enhancing the antioxidative capacity and energy production of the human oocyte. Again, great!
But what about males? Are the potential reproductive health benefits of CoQ10 exclusive to females, or do males stand to benefit from supplementation with CoQ10 as well? According to the results from two recent meta-analyses, the answer is yes.
In a meta-analysis of 3 randomized clinical trials evaluating CoQ10’s effects on male fertility, males receiving CoQ10 treatment experienced statistically significant increases in sperm concentration and sperm motility.3 Similarly, a second meta-analysis of 5 trials assessing the effects of different nutrient supplements on sperm quality found that men who supplemented with CoQ10 experienced significant increases in a variety of sperm quality parameters.4
While these studies provide initial evidence that CoQ10 may play a beneficial role in reproductive health, more rigorous studies showing a definitive benefit in humans are still needed to understand the nature of CoQ10’s effects on fertility.
Should you supplement with CoQ10?
And now for the million-dollar question: should you add a CoQ10 supplement to your diet? The answer is, maybe. Although most individuals can produce CoQ10 and/or obtain sufficient amounts of it through dietary sources (mainly meat, poultry, fish, and certain vegetable oils), certain genetic and age-related factors can lead to suboptimal CoQ10 synthesis and the need for supplementation.25,26
Furthermore, CoQ10 supplementation may be useful for individuals with increased free radical generation (e.g., athletes, smokers, alcohol drinkers, people who work primarily outside) or individuals for whom reduced mitochondrial function might be an issue—such as couples trying to conceive in their late 30’s and 40s. (Wink).
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that supplementing with CoQ10 is guaranteed to help get you pregnant. However, given its potent antioxidant capacities and ability to support ATP production (two important factors related to reproductive health), supplementing with CoQ10 certainly won’t hurt your chances of conceiving, and may help your reproductive cells function more efficiently. In other words, CoQ10 might help you get pregnant.
How much CoQ10 should you take for fertility?
Although an ideal dose of CoQ10 has yet to be established, a typical daily dose ranges between 30 to 200 mg.7 However, it bears noting that the studies finding benefits for fertility used larger doses of CoQ10 (as high as 600 mg a day), which were found to be safe and well-tolerated.2–4 In order to reduce the chances of gastrointestinal discomfort, health professionals often recommend splitting doses of CoQ10 exceeding 100 mg into several doses throughout the day. 27,28
As with any dietary supplement, the decision to add CoQ10 to your daily nutrient regimen is one best made under the care of a healthcare professional. We encourage you to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about whether adding CoQ10—possibly in combination with other nutrients found to support reproductive health, such as omega-3s and carnitine—is right for you.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP): A molecule that provides energy to the cell.
Cellular efficiency: The amount of cellular/metabolic activity performed relative to the amount of energy expended.
Free radicals: Unstable molecules that can, in excess, cause damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA in the body.
Gametes: A mature sexual reproductive cell (a sperm or egg) that unites with another cell to form a new organism.
In-vitro fertilization: An assisted reproductive technology wherein fertilization occurs by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and transferring this embryo to a woman’s uterus.
Meta-Analyses: A quantitative study of studies.
Mitochondria: Known as the powerhouses of the cell, responsible for generating energy in the form of ATP.
Mitochondrial dysfunction: The failure of mitochondria to function normally and meet the energy requirements of the body.
Oocytes: Cells in the ovary that act as the ‘precursor’ cell for the ovum, and subsequently, an embryo, and fetus.
Oxidative stress: An imbalance in the production of free radicals (too much) and antioxidants (not enough).