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How CoQ10 and Mitochondrial Function Can Affect Egg Production

CoQ10 is an antioxidant that helps cells to efficiently carry out their functions. Learn more about how this supplement works with the mitochondria of cells and how it can be used to affect fertility treatments in older women.

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Hello I’m Dr. Gleicher and I’m the Medical Director and Chief Scientist here at CHR. Today, I want to talk to you about the supplement that is very widely used in both female and male infertility treatment and that is CoQ10.

CoQ10 is not a hormone. It is what is called an “antioxidant.” In other words, it is a substance that counteracts unhealthy processes in cells and kind of recharges the batteries in cells. Our millions and millions of cells are living organisms. They need energy and that energy is provided by tiny structures in each one of our cells which are called “mitochondria.”

We have talked and written in our newsletter a lot about those mitochondria because they are obviously not only of crucial importance in general (because all of our cells require energy that those mitochondria provide), but also because their function seems to be declining as we get older. And, indeed, there is a very credible hypothesis (particularly in female infertility) that suggests that if we succeeded in improving mitochondrial function in older women, their eggs would perform better, would create better embryos, and therefore, better pregnancy chances.

Now, it is important to understand that the egg, the mature egg, is the largest cell in the body of a woman and therefore, it is also the cell that needs the most energy in the body of a woman. And finally, that is also why the egg cell, the mature egg cell, has the largest number of mitochondria in his cell in the body. Consequently, already 15-20 years ago, some colleagues suggested that if we take the eggs of older women where the mitochondria may not be working that well any longer and replace those mitochondria with the mitochondria of a younger woman, maybe that could improve the overall performance of those eggs. This is called “cytoplasmic exchange,” because the mitochondria are located in the cytoplasm of the egg.

The cytoplasm is the fluid faced area surrounding the nucleus of any cell and in that cytoplasm, there are those tiny little structures amongst others called mitochondria that provide all the energy to every cell in our bodies. When a few colleagues here in New York tried clinically to exchange the cytoplasm (or small amounts of the cytoplasm) in older woman’s eggs with young donor cytoplasm, the Food and Drug Administration intervened and prohibited that. And the reason for their intervention was that those mitochondria are the only structures in our cells that have DNA outside of the nucleus.

So, mitochondria, in other words, have their own DNA. It’s a tiny fraction of the total DNA, indeed it is less than 1% of the total DNA load that we all carry, but the mitochondria have so-called “mitochondrial DNA” in contrast to nuclear DNA. And if you, therefore, exchange cytoplasm with mitochondria of a patient with cytoplasmic mitochondria of a young egg donor, you kind of introduce into that egg cell another DNA. And if that egg then is fertilized, then what you are ending up with are three parents’ embryos and three parents’ pregnancy (even though the traditional mom and the traditional dad still make up 99% of the offspring’s DNA), but there is that tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA that comes from the young egg donor and because that means crossing the germline, means creating a genetic modification in the child.

The FDA intervened then and until today does not allow any procedure that would cure this situation even if the mother has what is called a so-called “mitochondrial genetic disease,” which are very rare inherited diseases which are only inherited from the mother and which are usually deadly to the offspring. By changing mitochondria, that is obviously a way of preventing transmission of these mitochondrial diseases from mother to offspring. Yet, we are still not allowed to do that even though the likelihood that that would work is even much larger than the current hypothesis that exchanging mitochondria (old mitochondria with younger mitochondria )would also improve female fertility in older women.

So, CoQ10, as one of the drugs that can improve the production of energy by mitochondria, is, therefore, a very important supplement that most fertility clinics today are routinely prescribing (especially to their older patients). I hope that tells you a little bit more about CoQ10. Thank you.