It's been over a decade since the last successful heart failure treatments — ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers — were introduced, but now European scientists have discovered that the popular over-the-counter nutritional supplement coenzyme Q10 could be the next big thing in heart health.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a common supplement that can also be found naturally in every human body. More importantly: when given to patients who have recently had heart failure, it has been shown to decrease all cause mortality in half.

CoQ10 is an electron carrier in the mitochondria of the cells. It works to produce energy and is the only antioxidant that humans synthesize in the body — a powerful one too. Its presence in the body decreases in the heart of patients with heart failure, but the numbers become even more reduced when statins are used to treat patients with heart failure because they also block the production of CoQ10, according to a press release.

The results of the study, which were presented at Heart Failure Congress 2013 in Lisbon, Portugal, were from a multicenter randomized double-blind trial. The trial included 420 patients from across Europe and Asian with severe heart failure, characterized as class III or IV by the New York Heart Association (NYHA), were given either CoQ10 or a placebo, and scientists followed them for two years. The clinical endpoint for the patients was the time to the first major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE), which included unplanned hospitalization because of worsening of heart failure, cardiovascular death, urgent cardiac transplantation, and mechanical circulatory support.

The researchers found that within the two years, 29 (14 percent) patients receiving CoQ10 experience MACE compared to 55 (25 percent) of the patients who were getting the placebo. CoQ10 also lowered the risk of dying from all causes in half; in the CoQ10 group, 18 (9 percent) patients died compared to 36 (17 percent) in the placebo group.

Professor Svend Aage Mortensen, the lead author of the study, believes using CoQ10 in conjunction with current therapies for heart failure could be beneficial for those suffering from the condition.

"Other heart failure medications block rather than enhance cellular processes and may have side effects," he said in the press release. "Supplementation with CoQ10, which is a natural and safe substance, corrects a deficiency in the body and blocks the vicious metabolic cycle in chronic heart failure called the energy starved heart."

Heart failure is a condition that develops over time. It affects about 5.8 million people in the United States and is caused by the weakening of the heart's pumping action. It can occur in the right or left side of the heart, but usually occurs in both. Right side heart failure occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen, while left side failure occurs when the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, according to the National Institutes of Health.

ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers have been helping people with heart failure for years now. ACE inhibitors dilate blood vessels in order to increase blood flow; thereby decreasing the amount of work the heart has to do. They also block harmful substances from being produced as a result of heart failure. Beta-blockers serve the same purpose: by blocking the production of these substances, the heart's ability to relax is increased and over time, its pumping ability improves, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Antioxidants protect cells against free radicals, which can also contribute to heart disease. Using the body's potential to synthesize the CoQ10 is essential when considering its effect on heart failure. Although CoQ10 can be found in foods including red meat, plants, and fish, the levels aren't high enough to benefit heart failure; however, supplements are available.

"Food supplements can influence the effect of other medications including anticoagulants and patients should seek advice from their doctor before taking them," Moretensen said.

Source: Mortensen S, Kumar A, Dolliner P. The effect of coenzyme Q10 on morbidity and mortality in chronic heart failure. Results from the Q-SYMBIO study. Presented at Heart Failure Congress 2013. May 2013.