Idebenone is a substance that bears a strong resemblance to Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) — the metabolic factor that plays a crucial
role in the body’s extraction of energy from sugars and fats. CoQ10 is made in the body and incorporated into the membranes
of the cells’ mitochondria — the organelles which cells rely on for most of their energy needs. Idebenone, on the other hand,
is a synthetic analog of CoQ10.
Both idebenone and CoQ10 can function as way-stations for electrons stripped from food-derived molecules — they pass these
electrons onward to be used in transforming oxygen into water. But when oxygen is in short supply, CoQ10 diverts some of these
electrons into free-radical production, and the radicals damage any tissue they reach. Idebenone is thought to differ from
CoQ10 in that it somehow avoids this destructive production of free radicals.
What we can’t tell you
In the U.S. and some other industrialized countries, government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
have adopted censorship as a method for intensifying their control over the supplement industry and its customers.
Thus, FDA regulations prohibit us from telling you that any of our products are effective as medical treatments,
even if they are, in fact, effective.
Accordingly, we will limit our discussion of Idebenone to a brief summary of relevant research,
and let you draw your own conclusions about what medical conditions it may be effective in treating.
Idebenone and CoQ10 have been widely used to treat degenerative disorders of nerves and muscles. These compounds hold promise
in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Friedreich's ataxia, MELAS,
and other conditions which have been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction.
The following actions of idebenone are supported by existing evidence:
- protects cell membranes and mitochondria from oxidative damage
- protects against nerve damage in the brain
- promotes the production of NGF (nerve growth factor) in the brain
- diminishes brain damage from stroke
- improves mental condition of patients with Alzheimer's disease
- prevents cardiac injury in Friedreich’s ataxia patients
- beneficial in treating the progressive neurodegeneration known as “MELAS Syndrome” (Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, Lactic
Acidosis, and Stroke)
- reduces heart damage in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
- protects hearing from damage by loud noise
- reduces tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- reduces neurodegeneration in Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy
- improves brain function and symptoms in patients with cerebrovascular disease
- protects liver against injury by bile acids and peroxides
- prevents respiratory failure in Leigh Syndrome patients
- reduces the size of wrinkles when used on the skin
- suppresses growth of H. pylori bacteria which cause gastric ulcers
- prevents DNA damage
- has potential for treating spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy
Let’s look at a few of these actions in more detail.
Neuroprotection and Stimulation of Nerve Growth
The above list of actions of idebenone seems at first glance to be diverse. It turns out, however, that most or all of these
actions can be traced to two basic characteristics of the idebenone molecule: its ability to prevent free radical generation,
and its ability to stimulate Nerve Growth Factor (NGF — a peptide hormone that triggers the reproduction of nerve cells). Furthermore, these two characteristics may be closely related.
“Friedreich's ataxia (FA) is an inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system, resulting in symptoms
ranging from gait disturbance to speech problems; it can also lead to heart disease and diabetes.”
Researchers in Paris reported in 1999 that idebenone protects heart muscle in Friedreich’s patients from iron-induced injury.
Iron overloads are a basic characteristic of FA. This discovery set off a flurry of studies of idebenone as a treatment for this and other neurodegenerative diseases — an
effort that continues to this day.
The conclusions of those Paris researchers have been confirmed. It was also hoped that the benefits of idebenone would extend beyond the heart to the rest of the nervous system, but here
studies have proved inconclusive — except in children, where it showed “a stabilizing effect on neurological dysfunction”.
Low-dose idebenone (5 mg/day) is inadequate to reduce neurological symptoms in FA. Higher doses are effective.
A Russian study using high-dose idebenone found “positive changes … in the majority of patients for muscle strength in extremities,
tolerability to physical loadings, general fatigue, movement activity, speech and coordination functions”
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
This is an inherited condition that affects 1 in 4000 males, and is “characterized by rapid progression of muscle degeneration,
eventually leading to loss of ambulation and death.”
Experiments with mice have shown that idebenone treatment significantly corrects inflammation and dysfunction of the heart,
and improves running performance.
The five senses — touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision — all depend upon the integrity of the nervous system. But nerve
cells, like all cells, are prone to damage by free radicals, and free radical production in the body can be elevated by trauma
and disease. Consequently, idebenone and other free-radical suppressors can be an aid to preserving the senses.
For example, as everyone knows, exposure to loud noise will damage one’s hearing. The mechanism of such damage is thought
to involve cell damage by free radicals. It is not surprising, then, that idebenone has been found to reduce Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
Similarly, idebenone can be used to prevent damage to vision. The example here is a disease called “Leber's hereditary optic
neuropathy”, which causes the degeneration of neurons in the eye. Idebenone supplementation has been shown to reduce this
Researchers have found that idebenone ameliorates the effects of brain damage, and suggest that the improvement is due to
the stimulation of Nerve Growth Factor synthesis.
Two aspects of aging have been addressed by experiments with idebenone: brain aging, and skin aging.
The production of Nerve Growth Factor declines in the aging brain, leaving the brain unable to repair various kinds of damage
and deterioration that occur. Idebenone has shown an ability to boost NGF production. It also has the ability to improve the performance of nerve cells involved in memory. Consequently, idebenone treatment has resulted in the enhancement of memory both in experiments with elderly lab animals
and in humans. The enhancement was even greater when idebenone was combined with vinpocetine supplements.
Extensive experimentation with idebenone as a skin treatment has revealed that a 1% idebenone skin formula produces major
improvements in roughness, dryness, wrinkles, and UV-damage.
Cell culture experiments have shown that idebenone cannot be used as a substitute for CoQ10 when a CoQ10 deficiency exits
— such deficiencies require CoQ10 supplementation, not just idebenone. Idebenone can, however, diminish tissue damage resulting
from the oxidative stress and cell death that accompany CoQ10 deficiencies. In other words, it makes sense to supplement with both CoQ10 and idebenone, not just one of them.
Experimental studies have shown that idebenone can reduce the brain damage that usually accompanies strokes — apparently by
minimizing free-radical production and by stimulating the growth of new nerve cells. It works even better when combined with
The use of idebenone for treating Alzheimer’s Disease has been the focus of many studies, and positive results have been reported.
Here are some conclusions reached by several of these studies:
- At a dose of 120 mg/day for six months, researchers found “improvements in short-term and long-term memory and attention,
with improvements in speech functions, performance of kinesthetic, spatial, and dynamic praxis tests, and in visuospatial
gnosis, thought, and writing. On the CGI scale, positive treatment effects were obtained in 37% of patients.”
- In a year-long study of 92 patients, “Treatment with idebenone was found effective on memory, attention, and orientation and
in slowing down the natural progressive worsening of the disease.”
- A lab experiment in which animals were infused with A-beta (a protein known to cause Alzheimer’s-type dementia), treatment
with idebenone prevented learning and memory deficits caused by A-beta.
- Researchers at Nagoya University showed that repeated oral administration of idebenone partially restored the age-associated
decrease of Nerve Growth Factor in brain and improved the performance of aged, mentally impaired lab animals in the water
maze, passive avoidance, and habituation tasks.
- In a 2-year clinical trial, 450 Alzheimer’s patients were treated with idebenone at 0 or 90 or 120 mg three times/day. The
study showed a dose-dependent improvement in all variables of the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale.
MELAS (Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, Lactic Acidosis, and Stroke) is a disease caused by defects in any of several mitochondrial
genes. It “affects many of the body's systems, particularly the brain and nervous system (encephalo-) and muscles (myopathy)”.
As indicated above, idebenone plays the same role as CoQ10 — it is an electron carrier. Some forms of MELAS are caused by
defects closely related to CoQ10. This is why idebenone has been beneficial in individuals with these forms of MELAS. It has no such benefit for individuals with other forms of MELAS.
Usage and safety
Clinical studies have shown that idebenone is best taken at mealtime — “Plasma concentrations … increased approximately five-fold
in the presence of food”. The optimal dose may depend upon the condition it is being used for. Doses used in successful clinical studies have ranged
from about 40 mg three times/day (for Friedreich’s Ataxia) up to about 750 mg three times/day (for Alzheimer’s).
Studies have shown idebenone to be safe and well tolerated at fairly high doses (e.g., 2250 mg/day. Even doses around 3500 mg/day appear to be safe, though not necessarily pleasant.
Are Idebenone supplements useful for the conditions and purposes mentioned above?
We aren’t allowed to tell you, so you should take a look at some of the references cited here,
and then decide for yourself.