Why human beings become fragile after the age of 65
A study shows how a deficiency of coenzyme Q10, which charges our biological batteries, reduces mobility and the capacity for the generation of this vital molecule
The Q10 coenzyme is vital. If cellular mitochondria are the body’s batteries, this lipid is their charger, being responsible for the transport of electrons and also serving as a key antioxidant for the proper working of the body. A deficiency of Q10, which is linked to aging, generates an energy insufficiency that is related to mitochondrial conditions, cardiac diseases, strokes and neurodegenerative pathologies, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. A new study has, for the first time, associated low levels of this coenzyme with sarcopenia, the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, which creates fragility in older people. The study reveals that this is more common in women.
The Q10 coenzyme is a key piece in the biological puzzle, in particular for the brain, heart and muscles – precisely the organs that need the most energy and are the most vulnerable to such a deficit. A study published by the team from the Andalusian Centre of Developmental Biology (CABD) in the publication Antioxidants has revealed that this is also a cause and a consequence of fragility in people aged over 65, as well as being a factor related to cardiovascular risk.
CABD researcher Guillermo López Lluch is one of the authors of the study and sums it up: “Older people who have more symptoms or markers of fragility have less Q10 enzyme in their blood plasma.” These levels, he continues, could be a reference for determining how vulnerable people are and establishing therapies to palliate this.
The main deficiency in this molecule is caused among people who cannot create it, mainly due to genetic reasons. But the secondary one can be a cause or consequence of chronic conditions, such as diabetes or neurodegenerative illnesses.
The researcher points to the fact that a lower presence of this fundamental lipid creates a spiral of decline that has to be reversed. “Levels of Q10 fall with lower levels of physical activity, and the lower these levels, the lower the capacity to exercise. It’s a vicious circle and a dramatic one, because functionality is lost as well as the ability to get it back.”
To break this trend, there are a number of complementary strategies. The first is to increase physical activity in a regular and progressive way. The second is to correct this deficit via diet. According to López Lluch, this can be done with the “Mediterranean diet and, in particular, the consumption of nuts and varied vegetables with vegetable oils.” From there, the direction of the spiral can be inverted: the correction of the deficiency allows for more exercise to be done and this helps to increase the levels of the coenzyme in the blood.
There are also specific supplements on the market, but the researcher warns that these must always be taken under medical supervision. “There is no need to take them every day nor in large quantities,” he explains. They can also be counterproductive when combined with other pharmaceuticals. A study published in Biochemical Pharmacology by researchers from Japan’s Kanazawa University back this caution after studying the interaction of some anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, with coenzymes. According to the study, they can have effects on the liver.
With these preventions, the benefits of a rise in the presence of the Q10 enzyme are evident. According to López Lluch, “the rise in the plasma levels improves the health of the blood vessels, prevents damage due to vascular problems that can be associated with the formation of blood clots, and that can also increase physical capacity by improving the delivery of nutrients to the muscles.”
The study continues: “The association of physical activity in elderly people with high CoQ10 levels could not only improve endothelial capacity [the lining of the blood vessels], but also reduce the release of vesicles and factors involved in inflammation and the senescence phenotype [aging].”
What’s more, the results of the research indicate that high levels of CoQ10 are directly linked with lower cardiovascular risk due to their relationship with cholesterol, particles that the coenzyme connects with to lower the risk of a heart attack.
A trial at the University of Colorado Boulder, published by the American Heart Association, tried a 20-milligram-a-day supplement with Q10 in the over-60s. The result brought benefits to the endothelium and a rise in blood flow. According to the main author, Matthew Rossman, “therapies like this one can be a true promise for reducing the risk of cardiovascular illnesses related to age.”
Another relevant finding of the study is that women have greater deficits of CoQ10 than men. Nils Bomer, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, says that “this result needs to be studied more.” He believes that it could be related to the evolution of the muscles after menopause, but that it is a field that requires more exploration, as well as the effects on cognitive capacity in general. This will be the subject of his next project.