Mitochondria are crucial to our wellbeing and responsible for turning our fuel into energy. There are many ways our mitochondria can become damaged which can lead to many symptoms and chronic illness. It's important to learn how we can save and repair our mitochondria.
What are mitochondria?
Our bodies are made up of trillions of cells and inside these cells are mitochondria, also known as the powerhouses of our cells. Mitochondria are found in every cell in the body except red blood cells. Some cells have more than one mitochondrion, a human muscle cell can contain up to 2500 mitochondria each. Cells like the brain, heart, skeletal muscles and the eye require more energy and contain even more mitochondria.
How is energy made?
Mitochondria are responsible for the process to convert the food we eat (glucose) and the air we breathe (oxygen) into energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate “ATP” - a fuel that can generate energy for our cells that is necessary to maintain life.
ATP carries energy in its chemical bonds that our cells can use to function and grow. Once these bonds are broken and the energy is released, ATP is recycled by the mitochondria back to its active form and can be used again when needed. It is estimated there is between 200-300 grams of ATP in the average adult body and many adults can burn through their ATP stores daily. During this energy production the mitochondria also creates certain by-products called free radicals that play a role in our immune response, but also can be damaging to the mitochondria cell wall and other cells in the body.
When free radicals start to damage the mitochondria, they can become inefficient at producing energy and their DNA can become damaged leading to cellular dysfunction. This can cause a person to suffer from low energy levels and can lead to potentially serious health conditions. It is also thought to be a major contributor to advanced aging.
Free radicals can become damaging when there is continuous high stress causing the body’s energy requirements to increase, the mitochondria cannot keep up with the demand and too many free radicals are released. Under normal circumstances our immune response can neutralize these free radicals and maintain homeostasis, but our energy stores are not unlimited and can be depleted.
Damage vs. Repair
Mitochondrial dysfunction is the root of chronic disease:
- Extrinsic damage is caused by exposure to certain environmental factors (such as certain pharmaceutical drugs, occupational chemicals and cigarette smoke) or genetic abnormalities (of both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA).
- Intrinsic damage is caused by our own cells and signalers becoming a problem not a solution.
- When mitochondria produce ATP, they also produce by-products known as free radicals. These free radicals are mostly highly reactive oxygen compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS) or reactive nitrogen species (RNS) which can be beneficial, but if not kept in check, can react and damage other parts of the cell such as the mitochondrial membranes and the cell's DNA.
- At higher concentrations, both ROS and RNS generate what is called oxidative stress, a provess that can damage all cells and their function. Oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of mental and physical chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, arthritis, aging, autoimmune disorders, psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Our body has several innate mechanisms to counteract oxidative stress through the production of antioxidants.
- Antioxidants can be produced naturally internally, or we can get them from external sources such as foods and supplements. Endogenous and exogenous antioxidants act as “free radical scavengers” by preventing and repairing damages caused by both ROS and RNS, and therefore can enhance the immune defense and lower the risk of cancer and degenerative disease. The mitochondria will produce and store our body's own antioxidant, CoQ10, but as we get older, the natural level of CoQ10 will decline. When this happens, free radicals start to damage the mitochondrial membrane where the energy-production process happens. With damaged mitochondria there will be less energy produced leading to potential cellular dysfunction.
Signs of mitochondrial dysfunction:
- Tired or lacking energy
- Hormonal mood swings
- Weight gain or blood sugar fluctuation
- Reduced exercise performance and recovery
- Aging skin
- Feeling the effects of aging
- Stressed or anxious
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart, blood pressure or circulation issues
- Lack of mental sharpness
How to save and repair our mitochondria:
- Sleep - Getting proper sleep is important. If you’re not sleeping adequately then you are not allowing the body to recover and repair. During deep stages of sleep our body works to remove toxins and waste from the brain which inhibit mitochondrial function. Some studies have found there are other opportunities to improve mitochondrial function such as meditation, deep breathing, taking cold showers and safe sun exposure.
- Diet - Mitochondria requires the food we eat and air we breathe to turn it into the energy. Eat nutrient dense foods and you’ll give the mitochondria the essentials they need to keep replenishing energy stores. This includes increasing consumption of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats and reducing harmful ingredients such as sugar and refined grains.
Certain eating strategies such as intermittent fasting and periodic fasting can help improve our cellular energy. The mitochondria can burn either glucose (sugar) or fat for fuel, and over time they will prefer one over the other. Diets high in carbohydrates, “sugar burners” have increased the pathways in the mitochondria that burn glucose and decreased, or down-regulated, the underused pathway for burning fat. As they run out of glucose from their last meal, instead of transitioning to a fasted state to mobilize and burn stored body fat, they become hungry for more glucose and eat frequent carb heavy meals which will progressively increase body fat.
When becoming adapted to using ketones, it has been shown to promote neurogenesis (growth and development of nerve cells) through substances such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is associated with improved cognition, neurotransmitter production and reduced aging of the brain. This also has been shown to increase NAD levels needed for energy production and reduces the amounts of free radical production.
- Exercise - Exercise (especially high intensity or strength training) increases the number of mitochondria in your body and improving its ability to produce energy. In other words, the more mitochondria you have, the more energy you can generate during exercise leading to faster, longer workouts.
- Supplementation - Our body produces and stores many antioxidants and nutrients essential to mitochondrial health but these stores can quickly become depleted and our natural levels decline as we age.
Available nutrient therapies at TeleWellnessMD® that can help are:
- Coenzyme Q10
- B Vitamins - Methylcobalamin B12, B-Complex
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
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