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What Is Coenzyme a?

By Douglas Bonderud
Updated May 17, 2024
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Coenzyme A is, not surprisingly, a coenzyme. It is also known as a cofactor. The terms cofactor and coenzyme can be used interchangeably. They are chemical compounds that are bound to proteins in the body. Without a cofactor attached, a protein cannot carry out its biological function.

Cofactors are also known as helper molecules, and are often classified according to how tightly they are bonded to their protein partner. Tightly bonded cofactors are known as prosthetic groups, and loosely bonded cofactors are typically referred to by the broader term coenzymes. The first cofactor was isolated in 1906, in yeast, but cofactors can be organic or inorganic.

The most important function of coenzyme A is to aid in oxidizing and synthesizing fatty acids. It is also used as a substrate in the enzymes of all sequenced genomes, and is used in 4% of cellular enzymes. In addition, this substance is responsible for helping to maintain the citric acid cycle, by oxidizing pyruvate. This coenzyme begins its life as pantothenate and is converted through a five-step process into a usable form.

Chemically, coenzyme A is a thiol. This means that it contains a functional group that has a sulfur-hydrogen (SH) bond. These are often referred to as thiol groups or sulfhydryl groups, but were originally known as mercaptans. Typically, a thiol has a potent odor, often similar to garlic. The lower the molecular weight of the thiol, the more intense the smell. It is a thiol, known as t-butyl mercaptan, that is used to give natural gas an odor.

Coenzyme A is produced in the body, but can also be taken as a nutritional supplement. In theory, the intake of this compound results in lower stress and slower aging, a strengthened immune system, and accelerated production of energy from fat in the body. These supplements are taken once a day in tablet or capsule form, on an empty stomach. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not evaluated many of the claims made by commercial retailers of the substance, and limited research has been done into its effectiveness as a supplement.

Interest in using this coenzyme in chemical experiments is also on the rise, with a number of companies producing several varieties of coenzyme A for laboratory use. Originally, this compound had to be synthesized in a laboratory and required a substantial amount of time. Companies such as Sigma-Aldrich® now offer short, medium, and long chain versions of coenzyme A for purchase.

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Discussion Comments

By nony — On Sep 26, 2011

@everetra - I think that one of the most intriguing aspects of coenzyme A is that it helps the body to get energy from fat.

I don’t know if this means that it would be useful as a dietary supplement to assist in weight loss, but I am all for increased energy levels without the need for caffeine or other stimulants.

By everetra — On Sep 25, 2011

I take coenzyme A as part of my daily nutritional supplementation, although I don’t take a standalone pill. It’s part of a multivitamin.

Some people argue against the whole multivitamin approach, believing that individual pills deliver stronger concentrations of whatever it is you’re taking. I am fine with the multivitamin however.

The reason that I chose one with coenzyme A is that I had always heard that it was helpful in detoxification of the liver and that it could help you live a long life.

I’ve heard that people with a coenzyme A deficiency get easily fatigued and irritable, and can also suffer from depression and severe anxiety. I am sure that there are prescription drugs that battle these symptoms but I am a strong believer in addressing the problem at its cause.

That’s why I make sure to take coenzyme A, in addition to getting plenty of rest.

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