Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) may be the most important nutrient you've never heard of.
Don't feel bad if you don't know what PQQ is, though, because many healthcare professionals probably aren't familiar with it either.
It's only in the past decade that scientists have begun to understand this essential nutrient’s importance to human life.
PQQ might be described as a defender and protector of the body's energy-generating mitochondria. Based on emerging research, it is:
• A highly effective antioxidant, many times more efficient in sustaining mitochrondrial energy production than other, commonly used antioxidant compounds.
• Virtually unique in its ability to stimulate the growth of fresh, new mitochondria.
• And a well-documented means of promoting improved memory, concentration, and mental alertness - especially taken in combination with coenzyme Q10.
PQQ: What Is It?
Between 1910 and 1948, 13 essential vitamins were discovered and are currently recognized universally. For the next 30 years, the family of vitamins was thought to be complete – until PQQ was discovered in 1979.
As investigators studied this newly-discovered nutrient, found in many foods such as tofu, green tea and spinach, it became apparent that PQQ was essential for good health. But it wasn’t until 2003 that Japanese scientists discovered its biochemical role in the lysine degradation process, and proposed it may belong to the B vitamin complex.(1)
PQQ and Mitochondrial Health
Mitochondria are the energy producers of the cells. They work much like the engine of a car. What is a car without its engine? Just a big, inert hunk of metal. Similarly, without mitochondria, the cells in your body would not be able to do anything. Your heart would not beat; your lungs would not breathe; your brain would cease to function. Mitochondria are essential to life itself.
As you might expect, since proper mitochondrial function is so critical for health and life, mitochondrial dysfunction plays a significant part in many types of illnesses, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), chronic Lyme disease, type 2 diabetes, heart failure, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. And many cell biologists believe the quantity and function of mitochondria are key determinants of longevity.(2-4)
Now you're probably wondering what PQQ has to do with our mitochondria. As it turns out, quite a lot.
A series of in-vivo studies found that when mice are deprived of dietary PQQ, they have fewer mitochondria in their tissues. They also exhibited stunted growth, compromised immunity, and impaired reproductive capability. In addition, the survival rates of juvenile mice were significantly reduced in the absence of PQQ.(5-7)
Why is PQQ so important for mitochondrial health? Because our mitochondria are extremely vulnerable to damage and destruction from free radicals, and PQQ is a super-powerful antioxidant with formidable free-radical scavenging capabilities. It is also an exceptionally stable molecule that is able to do its work successfully without breaking down.
According to a University of California at Davis study, PQQ is 30 to 5,000 times more efficient in sustaining mitochondrial energy production than the other common antioxidant compounds most people rely on, like ascorbic acid.(8)
If you think PQQ's ability to support and protect existing mitochondria sounds impressive, just wait – PQQ is able to perform an even more impressive feat.
In 2010, researchers discovered that PQQ actually stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis – the growth of fresh, new mitochondria!(9)
This was a huge discovery. Up until then, the only natural ways known to stimulate the growth of new mitochondria were long-term and sustained calorie restriction or strenuous physical activity – both of which were far too rigorous and impractical for most aging or ill individuals.
Supporting Reversal of Cognitive Decline
As we get older, most of us start experiencing some memory loss and cognitive functioning difficulties – evidence of the increased toll free radicals and oxidative stress are taking on our mitochondria. In one study, researchers found evidence of 50% more mitochondrial damage in the brain cells of people over 70 compared to those in middle-aged individuals.(10)
Although that finding was not encouraging, there is good news. According to a 2007 scientific review in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, age-related mitochondrial dysfunction can be reversed.(11)
When it comes to improving cognitive function and reversing mitochondrial dysfunction, PQQ and CoQ10 could aptly be called the dynamic duo.
While CoQ10 works to support optimum mitochondrial function, PQQ is busy encouraging the activation of genes that trigger mitochondrial reproduction, protection and repair.
A 2009 clinical trial in Japan clearly demonstrated this synergy. Middle-aged and elderly people who were given 20 mg per day of PQQ showed improvement in tests of higher cognitive function. However, the improvements were significantly amplified when the subjects also took 300 mg of CoQ10 each day. The researchers concluded that 20 mg of PQQ plus 300 mg of CoQ10 daily may support reversal of age-related cognitive decline in aging humans.(12)
Neuroprotective Effect in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases
Mitochondrial dysfunction is thought to be linked to age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. And an increasing body of evidence indicates that PQQ may be an effective intervention for Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
Both diseases are triggered by an accumulation of abnormal proteins which initiate a cascade of oxidative damage that results in brain cell death. Studies have revealed that PQQ helps the body to:
• Prevent development of the protein alpha-synuclein, which is associated with Parkinson’s disease.(13)
• Prevent the formation of amyloid-beta molecular structures associated with Alzheimer's disease.(14)
• Protect nerve cells from the oxidizing ravages of the amyloid-beta protein linked with Alzheimer’s disease.(15)
PQQ – Looking to the Future
It appears that scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface of the benefits PQQ may provide. In several animal studies, PQQ has shown great promise in supporting a reduction of the damage from heart attack, stroke and spinal cord injury.
For example, a 2006 study using rats actually found PQQ to be superior to the well known prescription beta-blocker metoprolol in supporting reduced oxidative damage after a heart attack. Supplementation with PQQ was associated with a reduced area of cardiac tissue death and improved overall cardiac function.(16)
It's going to be exciting to watch and see what other as-yet-unknown health benefits PQQ may hold.