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CoQ10 for Fertility: How This Antioxidant Can Help Improve Egg Quality

Explore the benefits of taking CoQ10 while trying to conceive and ways to add this powerful antioxidant to your routine.

March 16th, 2024 | 13 min. read

By Jill Hickey, RDN

When trying to conceive, you want to do everything in your power to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy. By now, you've likely come across fertility supplements like CoQ10 and wonder if they're worth adding to your daily regimen. Here's what you should know.

In this article:

CoQ10 & Fertility

In my role as a registered dietitian, patients frequently ask me, "What more can I do to improve my fertility?" When it comes to nutrition, the answer is - a lot! While there isn't a singular fertility 'superfood' that will skyrocket your odds of conceiving, making changes to your diet and lifestyle can have a big impact. 

As dietitians, we typically encourage eating whole foods over taking supplements (whenever possible), and including a vibrant variety of foods in your diet that give you more 'bang for your buck.' However, certain nutrients, like CoQ10, aren't easy to consume at therapeutic levels from food sources alone. 

Does the body make CoQ10?

Our bodies do produce CoQ10, with the highest concentrations found in organs with high rates of metabolism (think: the heart, kidneys, and liver). Unfortunately, the amount of CoQ10 our bodies can produce is limited (about 500-1500mg throughout the body), and those levels decline as we age. That's where supplements come in!

In this guide, we will explore the evidence-based benefits of CoQ10 for fertility, how to get more of this important antioxidant through dietary sources and supplementation, and why you should consider adding it to your daily regimen when trying to conceive

What is CoQ10?

Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) is a powerful, naturally-occurring antioxidant found throughout the body in cell membranes and is essential for cell function. Antioxidants do important work, fighting damaging particles in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death.

Free radicals are a byproduct of normal metabolic processes in the body, but they also result from environmental factors, like exposure to X-rays, air pollution, and industrial chemicals. With time, free radicals can negatively impact both sperm and egg quality.

Antioxidants like CoQ10 are responsible for neutralizing free radicals so they don’t cause damage to your body’s cells - think of them as your cell's tiny (but mighty) protectors!

Is CoQ10 a vitamin?

Most vitamins can’t be made within the body – they must be obtained through diet or supplementation - so because CoQ10 is naturally produced by the human body, it doesn’t technically qualify as a vitamin. But, it is a fat-soluble, vitamin-like compound in the ubiquinone family.

The name "ubiquinone" refers to the fact that these compounds, including CoQ10, have a "ubiquitous" presence in living organisms. In other words, virtually all cells in the human body contain some amount of CoQ10. 

Ubiquinone vs. Ubiquinol

There are two different forms of CoQ10 in your body: ubiquinone and ubiquinol.

Ubiquinone is the oxidized version of CoQ10 (the form most commonly found in supplements and foods). Ubiquinone is converted to its active form, ubiquinol, which is then more readily absorbed and utilized by your body.

Because CoQ10 is a large, fat-soluble nutrient, standard ubiquinone or ubiquinol CoQ10 supplements aren’t very well absorbed, even when taken with food. Some companies have created special formulations to allow for enhanced absorption, so the dose that’s right for you will depend on the specific CoQ10 supplement you’re taking.

That's why it's so crucial that you consult with your doctor and/or dietitian so they can recommend specific brands and dosages with your fertility goals in mind.

The Importance of Fertility Testing

In their examination of how CoQ10 and other supplements may impact fertility, Oxford University researchers emphasized the critical role of fertility testing - noting that diagnosing the underlying reasons for an individual or couple's fertility challenges is essential for creating an effective treatment plan.

Your treatment plan may include supplements like CoQ10, medications, or minor surgical procedures, depending on your situation.

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Common Causes of Infertility

The cause of infertility can be related to male, female, combined, or idiopathic (i.e. spontaneous/unexplained) factors. Fertility testing provides vital information about your body and fertility that your Care Team will then use to help you achieve your goals.

Causes of Male Infertility

About half of all cases of infertility among couples involve male factor infertility, either as the sole cause or a contributing factor. Several factors can lead to male infertility, often related to sperm production, function, or delivery.

Causes of Female Infertility

Endocrine disorders, endometriosis, fallopian tube injury, infection, or environmental factors can all cause female infertility. However, female infertility is most commonly associated with ovulation issues. This is often due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is currently viewed as one of the most common endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age.

Did you know? Around 80% of women with PCOS experience irregular cycles, which can contribute to challenges with conception.

Another important factor that increases the risk of ovulation disorders is oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. High levels of inflammatory markers during the menstrual cycle in women are associated with a higher risk of an anovulatory cycle, mainly by increasing oxidative stress in the ovary. (CoQ10 helps protect your cells against oxidative stress!)

The Impact of Diet on Fertility

In addition to exploring potential supplements like CoQ10, understanding the role of that diet and lifestyle play when it comes to your fertility is key.

Dietary components that have a positive influence on ovulation include carbohydrates with low glycemic index (i.e. higher-fiber carbs that are slower to digest, like whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies), plant protein, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, folic acid, vitamin D, antioxidants, and iron.

Eating habits based on the structure of the Mediterranean diet also appear to be beneficial due to the diet's anti-inflammatory properties. 

Components exerting a negative influence include high glycemic index carbohydrates (refined carbs that are rapidly digested), large amounts of animal protein, saturated fatty acids, and trans fatty acids, which are typical of the Western model of nutrition and closely related to increased oxidative stress.

The Benefits of CoQ10 for Fertility

For those trying to conceive, CoQ10 supplementation offers several potential benefits:

Antioxidant Properties

CoQ10 is known for its antioxidant capabilities, which can protect cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is harmful because it can lead to cellular damage, including to eggs and sperm, thereby affecting fertility. By reducing oxidative damage, CoQ10 may help protect the integrity of eggs and sperm and improve their viability. 

Energy Production

CoQ10 plays a critical role in the mitochondria. In grade school, you probably learned that "mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell." Mitochondria are responsible for generating most of the cell's supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used as a source of chemical energy.  

Oocytes (egg cells) contain more mitochondria than any other cell in the female body, and it takes a lot of energy to properly mature healthy eggs. Egg development, ovulation, and fertilization (as well as sperm mobility) all require a high level of energy.

Mitochondria in sperm can help create energy needed for sperm to move, as well as to join with an egg. Mitochondria in egg cells can also have an impact on genetic changes that are then carried over to a developing embryo. CoQ10 helps support this energy production by promoting optimal performance of the reproductive system.

Improving Egg & Sperm Quality

Research suggests that CoQ10 supplementation can improve egg quality in women, especially those 35 and older. In clinical studies, CoQ10 pretreatment resulted in significantly lower gonadotrophin requirements and higher peak estradiol (E2) levels. Women who took CoQ10 also had an increased number of retrieved eggs, a higher fertilization rate, and more high-quality embryos.

In recent years, CoQ10 has been discovered to play an important role in the male reproductive system. CoQ10 has been linked to healthy sperm morphology (shape), motility (movement), and concentration. One study showed that the antioxidant not only improved sperm parameters, but even reduced issues like sperm DNA fragmentation.

Combats Age-Related Decline in Fertility

The average childbearing age of women worldwide has been gradually increasing due to the influence of social and educational factors. Unfortunately, starting around age 35, follicles (the fluid-filled sacs that contain eggs) in the ovary begin to decline, leading to a decrease in female fertility.

Once you enter your late 30s, the natural levels of CoQ10 in your body also decrease.

This reduction can impact the quality of eggs and sperm due to reduced antioxidant protection and energy production (discussed above). Other causes of CoQ10 depletion include statin medication use, heart disease, nutrient deficiencies, genetic mutations, oxidative stress, and cancer.

This decrease appears to co-occur with the age-related decline in fertility and increased rate of embryo aneuploidy, suggesting a contribution of the reduced expression of CoQ10 to ovarian aging. Supplementing with CoQ10 is seen as one way to counteract these age-related declines in fertility - though it can also be beneficial for younger women with poor ovarian response, according to researchers at Oxford University.

Several animal studies have demonstrated that CoQ10 protects ovarian reserve (the amount of eggs you have left), counteracts physiological ovarian aging, and increases the rate of embryo cleavage and blastocyst formation (which are essential to successful embryo development).  

How long does it take for CoQ10 to improve fertility?

The duration required for CoQ10 to have an impact on fertility can vary based on several factors, including age, baseline CoQ10 levels, overall health, and the specific fertility issues being addressed.

However, because it takes around 90 days for sperm and egg cells to develop, professionals recommend at least 3 to 6 months of CoQ10 supplementation to improve parameters.

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Food Sources of CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found in various foods, although in relatively small amounts compared to what can be achieved through supplementation. The average daily intake of CoQ10 is low – only about 3-6 mg. However, incorporating CoQ10-rich foods into your diet can still contribute to your overall levels of this important nutrient.

Here are some of the top food sources of CoQ10:

  • Meat: Beef heart is particularly high in CoQ10, reflecting the high energy needs of heart muscle. Pork and chicken, especially organ meats like liver, are also good sources.
  • Fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are among the best dietary sources of CoQ10.
  • Vegetables: While generally lower in CoQ10 than animal products, certain vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower contain modest amounts.
  • Nuts and seeds: Peanuts, sesame seeds, and pistachios have been noted for their CoQ10 content.
  • Oils: Soybean and canola oil are relatively rich in CoQ10 among vegetable oils.
  • Fruits: Though fruits generally contain lower amounts of CoQ10, oranges and strawberries offer some.
  • Legumes: Soybeans are a notable legume source of CoQ10.
  • Whole grains such as wheat (particularly the germ portion) have some CoQ10 content.
  • Eggs, particularly the yolks, contain CoQ10 but in smaller amounts compared to meats and fish.
  • Dairy: Dairy products like milk and cheese can contribute to dietary intake of CoQ10, though they are not as rich a source as meats and fish.

Impact of Cooking and Processing

The CoQ10 content in food can be reduced by cooking and processing. For example, frying and boiling may decrease the CoQ10 content more significantly than steaming or eating foods raw (when safe to do so), and cooking CoQ10-containing foods reduces the amount of CoQ10 by 14-32%.

While food sources can contribute to the body's CoQ10 levels, for individuals seeking higher doses for therapeutic purposes (such as optimizing fertility), CoQ10 supplements are typically necessary.

Note: Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the best approach for your specific situation, as well as appropriate dosages and whether CoQ10 is a suitable option for you, considering your overall health and fertility goals. 

Talk to Your Doctor About CoQ10

As the research on CoQ10 continues to unfold, the full scope of this powerful antioxidant's impact on fertility will become clearer. 

Until then, for those navigating the often turbulent waters of infertility, CoQ10 supplementation offers a ray of hope—an adjunct therapy that, in concert with professional medical guidance, may help tip the scales toward the joy of parenthood.

Jill Hickey, RDN

Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been providing nutrition guidance to children and adults for over 20 years. She currently supports both PCOS and fertility patients at Illume Fertility with her broad experience and unique perspective. Jill is passionate about helping people work towards their healthiest selves by providing evidence-based, sustainable, personalized diet and lifestyle guidance.

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