The off-the-shelf compound coenzyme Q10 could give relief to patients with the rare, crippling nerve disorder hereditary ataxia. In a recent study, researchers led by Dr. Salvatore DiMauro,at Columbia University, identified six patients with ataxia whose coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels averaged about 70 per cent lower than normal. CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone, is a naturally occurring vitamin-like compound that helps cells pry energy from oxygen, a vital part of muscle health. The molecule is also a powerful antioxidant. The patients received 300 milligrams daily of CoQ10 supplements, building up to 3,000 milligrams a day as the treatment began to show promise. After a year, all had improved scores for coordination, balance and speech, the researchers say. The average gain was 25 per cent, but some patients witnesses a greater improvement. The researchers say five patients who were unable to walk before the study could do so with aid after a year on the supplement. Not everyone with ataxia would get help from the supplement, the researchers say. Dr. Jerry Mendell, a neurologist at Ohio State University in Columbus and a co-author of the study, says only a "very small fraction" of ataxia patients have CoQ10 deficiency. However the results of the study are encouraging and may spur researchers on to investigate nutrient problems of certain diseases, the researchers concluded. Full findings are published in the April 10 issue of Neurology.