With coenzyme Q10, brain aging could be detected in a blood test

In a blood test we measure glucose levels to detect diabetes, cholesterol levels to prevent cardiovascular diseases, liver enzymes to detect liver damage or certain markers such as PSA to detect cancer.

But what about cognitive decline? Is there a biomarker that tells us how old our brain is? New studies suggest that coenzyme Q10 is an interesting candidate.

A century after the discovery of Alzheimer’s and it remains untreated

It has been more than a century since Alzheimer’s began to be talked about and it still continues to give us headaches. Especially lately, with an increasingly aging population and the consequent growth of diseases typical of old age.

The reality is that, despite the efforts of researchers, the clinical therapies addressed to date to combat cognitive impairment have failed. Even recently, the data of certain studies that focused possible therapies on the accumulation of amyloid protein or tau tangles, two of the most common molecular and cellular processes in Alzheimer’s, but also in non-pathological aging, have been called into question .

The challenge now is to analyze in depth other different processes that may be related to the loss of functionality associated with senile dementia. These include oxidative damage, chronic inflammation, and even bacterial infections. This approach could lead us, who knows, to other types of more effective therapies.

Testing treatments in older people is not easy

The events that occur during aging are very complex, and also do not always evolve in the same way. Each cell, tissue or organ loses functionality in different ways and at different speeds. That is why it is so difficult to find a common factor towards which to direct possible therapies.

On the other hand, for obvious reasons, clinical studies carried out with human beings do not allow addressing interventions that could cause harm to them. They must be backed by previous preclinical studies that allow starting treatment with humans with some safety. Even so, in the first phase of a clinical study, the safety of the treatment is always studied and it is approached on a small population. But of course, the risk that signs of health deterioration appear in older people, independent of treatment, is high. For this reason, after certain ages, these patients are not even considered candidates for a clinical study.

What is left then with very old people? Well, observational studies where the results obtained from easy-to-obtain samples, such as blood, and light procedures that do not cause harm to the participants are analyzed. Sometimes they are specific studies and other longitudinal studies that follow a population for years.

Although we know that correlation does not necessarily imply causality, we can use biomarkers to detect diabetes or the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Hence the interest in finding the equivalent for neurodegenerative diseases.

Could coenzyme Q10 be a marker of cognitive decline?

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an essential molecule for life. There is no organism on Earth that does not contain this molecule or one of its variants. It is not only essential for the generation of energy by the mitochondria, but also to protect cell membranes and cholesterol in blood plasma from oxidation.

It is understandable, therefore, that its deficiency causes a deterioration in the functionality of the cerebellum, the ear, the muscle and the kidney. It can even cause death at very young ages.

Throughout life, CoQ10 levels decrease at different speeds depending on the organs. In the blood, these levels do not present a clear relationship with age, although they do with physical capacity. Furthermore, our recent study has shown that CoQ10 levels in the blood are highly correlated with cognitive and executive ability in older people. Surprisingly, lower plasma CoQ10 levels were associated with increased risk of dementia and lower executive ability.

Why? One possible explanation is that plasma CoQ10 directly influences the cells that line the blood vessels, known as the vascular endothelium. In the brain, this endothelium (blood-brain barrier) is highly specialized and controls the transit of substances and cells from the blood. And it turns out that during aging increases its permeability, influencing degenerative processes.

Fortunately, there are enzymes involved in the antioxidant protection of endothelial cells, although they require CoQ10 to function. From this it follows that high levels of circulating CoQ10 in the blood would preserve the capacity of the blood-brain barrier during aging, thus preventing neurodegenerative diseases.

Although more studies are needed to confirm this, everything points to CoQ10 being an excellent marker of cognitive decline.

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