By Dr. Deborah Field

As our bodies use oxygen, destructive by-products known as free radicals are created. These free radicals cause chain reactions that damage our cells, in a process known as oxidative damage.

Antioxidants help repair this damage.  Free radicals are implicated in many human diseases, as are low levels of antioxidants.  Although it's not yet known whether oxidative stress is the cause or the consequence. The body does have a natural defence against oxidative damage.  A natural store of enzymes and antioxidants that repair free radicals and protects the cells in the body from oxidative damage. However, low levels of antioxidants, or inhibition of the antioxidant enzymes, cause oxidative stress and may damage or kill cells.

And there are strong links between antioxidants and heart disease. People who consume fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, tea and a modest amount of red wine are known to have lower rates of heart disease.  This is because these items are particularly rich in natural anti-oxidant nutrients, including ascorbate (vitamin C) the tocopherols (vitamin E) and carotenoids.  They also have high levels of flavonoids, known as free radical scavengers, which have been shown to help prevent atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty material collects along the walls of arteries which restricts the flow of blood.

There are a vast number of these naturally occurring antioxidants. Over 600 carotenoids and 4000 flavonoids have been identified.  Flavonoids provide fruit and vegetables with their rich textures, distinct tastes and bright colours.  The food you eat is an important source of antioxidants that are needed to build up your natural defences against free radicals. But if your diet doesn't provide a sufficient supply of antioxidants, dietary supplements, non-prescription products used to improve health, may be beneficial. Some of these may already be familiar to you.   Vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, the amino acid L-arginine and Co-Enzyme Q10 are among the best known.

While many are commonly available and show signs of being beneficial, rigorous clinical trials, particularly among high-risk groups, are needed before they're routinely recommended to all patients.  Of these supplements, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and in particular Co-Enzyme Q10 appear to have been proven to play a positive role in the prevention and treatment of various heart conditions.  Further testing and long-term research is underway to evaluate their effectiveness thoroughly.

Here's a snapshot of some of the results for Co-Enzyme Q10 so far...

  • Doses of 100-200 mg/day, in addition to regular heart failure medications, have been shown to reduce the rate of hospitalisation in some heart failure patients.
  • There's a direct correlation between statin dosage (a class of drug used to lower cholesterol levels) and low levels of Co-Enzyme Q10 in the body.  The higher the dose of statins, the lower the level of CoQ10. So, it's reasonable to take supplements to boost CoQ10 levels.  The same applies to patients with cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), as their heart muscle samples show low levels of Co-Enzyme Q10.
  • For people with high blood pressure, 60 mg of Co-Enzyme Q10 twice daily has been shown in some studies to reduce systolic blood pressure by 16mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mm Hg.
  • For diabetes, 200 mg/day of Co-Enzyme Q10 improves HbA1C levels, a measure of how well a diabetic's sugar levels have been controlled.

And studies have shown that people who have experienced a heart attack, and who took 120 mg/day of Co-Enzyme Q10 for one year had lower total number of cardiac events, including both fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, compared with patients who did not take co-enzyme Q10. While Coenzyme Q10 is virtually free of side effects, it seems to lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients, and lower sugar levels in diabetics and may interfere with warfarin (a blood thinner) and other drug therapies.

So remember, if you're currently taking medications be sure to consult your doctor and ask about adding Coenzyme Q10 to your current health plan.

Have a Pharmacist send your prescription to you.