On the way in to work this morning I heard a paid advertisement for a vitamin supplement. I won't name the brand, but the host explained that the three key ingredients were: 1. Omega-3 Fish Oil 2. Plant Sterols 3. CoQ10
Unfortunately for the host, I have a two degrees in bioengineering, so I knew what a farce this was. But nevertheless, the host made the case that you should be taking huge amounts of all three, and their supplement was the only one that contained all three...and in high quantities. For those of you who don't have my educational background, please read on.
CoQ10, or Coenzyme Q(10), as biochemists know it, is a coenzyme that aids in the process of metabolization of sugar into ATP. 95% of the energy in the body is produced via ATP in the mitochondria, and CoQ10 plays a role in this. The host eagerly announced that every person had CoQ10 in their body, and as time went by the amount slowly decreased. He then claimed that by taken supplements containing CoQ10, you could boost your level of it, and thereby implied that you'd be filled with youthful energy, despite your age. This is true...and incredibly misleading. The half-life of CoQ10 (that is, the time it takes for half of the molecules in a sample to degrade into a non-effective molecule) is 33 hours. If you take a large dose of CoQ10, you'll have a 1.5 day surge in CoQ10 (mostly in your liver, where it produces untappable energy used in parasympathetic body processes), after which time you'll have to take CoQ10 again...and again... Basically, you can't permanently boost your CoQ10 levels unless you use the age old method of boosting your body's levels of mitochondrion: exercise. Further, CoQ10 is neither water soluble nor lipid soluble, and like Vitamin E is difficult to digest. Basically, the way it works is the less you take, the more you absorb. So taking a massive dose of CoQ10 actually works against you, and you just pass most of it out with your fecal matter.
Plant sterols, on the other hand, have been shown to decrease cholesterol, just like the host claimed. But the host didn't mention that numerous studies have found the sterols will accumulate in your heart, damaging your aortic valve. And the real catch with plant sterols is that they work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol...and are therefore most effective when taken with food, not as a supplement. Many butter makers enrich their products with sterols and tout them as low-cholesterol products. This is the effective use of plant sterol. Taking a vitamin of it with a high-fiber, zero-cholesterol breakfast like cereal or oatmeal does you zero good in fighting cholesterol.
Finally, though I won't discard the positive effects of fish oil (I take a fish oil supplement myself), I will point out that oil-based substances are difficult for the human digestive system to absorb, they must be bundled up into little packages called micelles and transported actively into the blood stream. This is not quickly done, and there are a limited number of transport cells in the human digestive tract. A massive dose of fish oil usually just means that you are going to waste a lot of fish oil. Even normal fish oil supplements, that have 30% O3 fatty acids tend to supersaturate your gut, and you don't absorb a lot of the fatty acid. The product being touted this morning was 90% O3 fatty acid. That just means you are paying more...to waste more.
Anyway, it pays to know what your supplements are doing to you, and whether your money is being spent well, or if it is a total, fraudulent waste of money based purely on the amazing power of the human body to falsely empower placebos.