What Is PQQ? The Mitochondrial Powerhouse!
The Wonder Compound and What You Need To Know
What is PQQ?
In our pursuit to build the best supplements for overall health and longevity we have come across numerous vitamins, minerals, and other compounds; many of which you may already know of. However, there are some powerful compounds that remain relatively unknown to those outside of the scientific community. Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is one such compound, and it contains Herculean-like benefits in the body.
PQQ, originally named methoxatin, was first identified in bacteria in 1979 as a cofactor for a group of enzymes called dehydrogenases. Since then, it has been studied and found to play an important role in human cells. As our understanding of its effects on the body increases, the benefits are increasingly appreciated.
PQQ is a member of the quinone family, a group that also includes Vitamin K (1,2, & 3) and Coenzyme Q10. The chemical properties of quinones allow for the quick and easy exchange of electrons with other compounds. These reactions, called redox reactions (short for reduction-oxidation), are universal and drive many cellular processes. The ability to donate and accept electrons is the driving factor behind antioxidant protection and the production of energy in the cell.
What does it do?
PQQ is a redox cofactor for many important cellular reactions; it is required for certain enzymes to operate. It has also been shown to improve mitochondrial function and is an incredibly powerful antioxidant.
Let’s look at each of these points in a little more detail.
The Lactate Dehydrogenase Enzyme
PQQ is a cofactor for many different enzymes and the reactions they catalyze. One important enzyme that PQQ modulates in humans is lactate dehydrogenase (LDH).
LDH is responsible for converting pyruvate (the product of glucose breakdown) into lactic acid; this helps cells generate energy when they are low in oxygen. PQQ slows down this enzyme, and thus the production of lactic acid without impairing energy production. PQQ simultaneously increases the concentration of the coenzyme NAD, which stimulates the production of mitochondria. This is where the mitochondrial benefits arise.
What are the benefits of more mitochondria?
The mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cells and is responsible for producing ATP from glucose, fat, and protein. The decline of mitochondria has been directly linked with aging and many age-related diseases. There is the potential for PQQ to help prevent or slow the onset of these disease states by maintaining a high number of mitochondria.
Studies have shown that rats fed a diet deficient in PQQ had a 20-30% reduction in their total number of mitochondria in the liver. With fewer mitochondria the ability to metabolize some amino acids becomes impaired. Conversely, more mitochondria means the body is able to produce more energy in the same amount of time. This could prove helpful in fighting obesity and increasing insulin sensitivity in Type 2 diabetics.
Unfortunately, the majority of PQQ research has been done on mice, making it difficult to determine how much increasing mitochondria production impacts cell longevity and disease prevention.
To gain conclusive evidence on the benefits of PQQ in humans, longitudinal human studies containing years (maybe even decades!) of data are needed. As it was only discovered less than 40 years ago it isn’t surprising that studies like this are lacking.
Finally, as PQQ is an antioxidant - an antioxidant is the cell’s defense against dangerous oxygen radicals - it is capable of carrying out 20,000 catalytic conversions. This is the number of times an antioxidant can exert its protective role in its lifetime. This is a staggering number when compared to other antioxidants. For example, Vitamin C is able to carry out just 4 catalytic conversions….and we all know how important and effective Vitamin C is in its antioxidant role.
With PQQ influencing cellular metabolism and protection at such an elementary level, it’s difficult to assess the impact of PQQ on the diseases that plague our society.
Chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegeneration (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) all have similar abnormalities at the cellular level, including increased oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. PQQ’s ability to stimulate mitochondria production and neutralize oxygen radicals has led researchers to study its effect in the prevention and treatment in many chronic diseases.
Where is it found?
So far, PQQ synthesis has not been found in human. Even though it’s made in bacteria, our gut bacteria do not provide sufficient PQQ. While PQQ has been found in small amounts in almost all foods these amounts aren’t likely to be enough to reach optimal levels in the body. Human intake is between 0.1 and 1.0 mg/day.
If you are trying to increase your PQQ intake from diet alone, your best bet is to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet as plants store roughly 10 times as much PQQ as animals. Natto, parsley, spinach, kiwi, and cocoa are a few examples of PQQ-rich foods.
Supplementing PQQ in addition to a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet is the most effective way to increase and maintain adequate PQQ levels. While there are few human studies of PQQ supplementation, many studies in rats and cell cultures have been performed demonstrating its therapeutic potential in numerous diseases.
Cognition and Anti-Aging
Perhaps the most exciting benefit of PQQ is its impact on the brain. PQQ improves learning, cognition, and memory by stimulating the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF is essential for the synthesis of new neurons – called neurogenesis – and is also important for neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability to create new connections between neurons, which is how we learn new things and make new memories.
Researchers now believe that the cognitive decline associated with aging is at least in part due to a decrease in NGF levels in the brain. Researchers have seen this decline in studies of aging rats. By increasing levels of NGF, PQQ may not only increase your cognitive function in the short term, it may actually delay the onset of brain aging.
What’s even more exciting is the fact that PQQ helps solve another issue of cognitive decline – loss of mitochondria.
As a child, your cells were loaded with mitochondria, which is why you seemingly never ran out of energy. Yet as we age those numbers slowly decline, and an even greater decline is seen in our later years. With PQQ’s ability to fire up mitochondria and NGF production, it may have a synergistic result in protecting us against rapid cognitive decline.
This could not come at a better time.
As the average length of life continues to rise, so too does the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases. Early studies of PQQ’s effectiveness in treating these diseases are promising and may soon offer an effective way of preventing and slowing their progression.
To understand the effects of PQQ on neuroprotection a background of the NMDA receptor is needed.
The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is a receptor/ion channel found in the membrane of neurons. This receptor opens when glutamate binds to it, causing an influx of calcium into the neuron. This pathway is associated with learning and memory.
Excessive binding of glutamate to NMDA receptors can be toxic to neurons and is consistently seen in models of neurodegeneration. This follows the rule of thumb that too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily good for you.
Studies examining the neuroprotective effects of PQQ have found that it modifies the NMDA receptor, making it less prone to glutamate-induced toxicity. This is no small finding as glutamate-induced neurotoxicity is involved in stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases. For example, in glutamate-treated hippocampal cells - the neurons responsible for memory - PQQ was shown to increase cell survival in a dose-dependent manner. This means there was a direct correlation between increasing doses of PQQ and cell survival!
PQQ has demonstrated the ability to save neurons in models of Parkinson’s disease. In these models, oxygen radicals modify a critical protein that causes dopamine to accumulate in the wrong place inside these cells leading to cell death. This cell death is seen in Parkinson’s patients as a decrease in the size of the part of the brain responsible for dopamine production and release. It appears PQQ can inhibit this process, potentially saving these neurons from death.
While the evidence appears overwhelmingly in favour of PQQ as an important neuroprotectant, it is difficult to say with certainty without human trials. More importantly, long-term human trials would be needed as neurodegenerative diseases take years - or even decades - to manifest themselves. However, based on current evidence it is fair to say PQQ would be useful in the prevention, and potentially in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
By increasing the uptake of glucose into cells, PQQ may decrease the desensitization of insulin - a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Also, by increasing the activity of protective enzymes, the amount of lipid peroxidation, a marker of oxidative damage, decreased, as did the levels of lipids and cholesterol in the bloodstream.
With so many markers associated with diabetes shown to improve with PQQ supplementation, it appears that it may be useful in treating type 2 diabetics.
But is it safe?
I have been unable to find any studies that showed any side effects or safety concerns when taking PQQ supplements. Seeing as it is found in most of the foods we eat it’s not a surprise that it is safe.
There is reason to believe that PQQ was present at the beginning of life on earth, as it has been found in stellar dust. The properties of PQQ would have been important in setting off the early chemical reactions necessary for cellular growth in early bacteria. As a critical component to early biological growth, it is unlikely that the same molecule would be detrimental to us now.
How much should I take?
Scientists have previously put forth the argument that PQQ should be classified as a B vitamin due to its prevalence and importance to our cells. Many experts still believe it fits the classification of a vitamin, but despite their efforts, PQQ remains a compound with ‘vitamin-like’ properties and not a vitamin.
Since it’s not considered a vitamin, a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for it has not been determined. And with most of the studies on PQQ performed in cultured human cells or on rats, there’s insufficient data to accurately predict what that amount may be.
At this point though, no upper limit of safe PQQ intake has been determined.
Most PQQ supplements contain 10 or 20 mg of PQQ disodium salt per capsule. The 2.5 mg per capsule found in Myolibria’s Mitochondria Balance would provide a daily intake of 10 mg if 4 capsules are taken per day – a dose that we personally take and recommend. Mitochondria Balance also contains other components that are essential for optimizing mitochondrial function.
What can we conclude?
As this ancient molecule enters the limelight of modern nutrition, research will provide a clearer picture of its benefits and its ability to combat many of the major diseases of our time.
Without clear evidence on how much PQQ you need, choosing whether or not to supplement can be difficult. If you eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, you are getting a good dose of it. Would more be helpful? At this point it’s unclear. But with such a wide range of benefits and early research in mice, it sure seems that way.