While often overlooked, the health of our mitochondria warrants greater attention due to their profound impact on our overall well-being and vitality. Mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses, undertake a multitude of critical functions within our cells, exerting a significant influence on our body’s health. From energy production to cellular signaling, these tiny organelles play an indispensable role in sustaining optimal health throughout our entire organism. Understanding and nurturing mitochondrial health is paramount for fostering vitality and ensuring the longevity of our cells and overall health.
However, an important thing to note is that mitochondria are remarkably vulnerable to damage. When compromised and functioning improperly, they can contribute to the development of numerous health issues.
Impaired mitochondrial function can lead to fatigue, memory decline, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, muscular discomfort, digestive complications, respiratory ailments, and an assortment of other symptoms. Additionally, it elevates the risk of chronic diseases in all their forms.
In this blog post I am going to go over what mitochondria are, their primary functions, causes of mitochondrial damage and I will go over some laboratory examinations for identifying mitochondrial irregularities.
Most importantly, I want to discuss effective strategies to enhance mitochondrial health and bolster cellular energy.
So what are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are specialized structures present in almost all cells of the human body, except for red blood cells. They have their own unique DNA.
Think of mitochondria as the powerhouses of your cells, acting like batteries that fuel various functions in your body. They are responsible for producing 90% of the energy that your cells need, which comes in the form of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). They also assist in carrying out important metabolic processes.
Mitochondria can be found in different concentrations in various tissues throughout your body, and their design and function are tailored to meet the specific needs of those tissues. For example, the mitochondria in your liver play a role in converting ammonia, a potentially harmful substance, into a less toxic waste product.
Mitochondria have two main jobs: cellular respiration and energy production. These important tasks are why we need to both breathe and eat. Our mitochondria need oxygen from the air we breathe and glucose and fat from the food we eat to create energy in the form of ATP. In addition to energy production and cellular respiration,
mitochondria also have other responsibilities. They help maintain the right amount of calcium in your cells, support cell growth, and even play a part in cell death processes.
Mitochondrial problems may develop for a variety of reasons, including genetic issues, toxin exposure, chronic infections, and poor lifestyle habits.
Addressing poor lifestyle habits stands as one of the key controllable factors influencing our health. As our bodies metabolize food within the mitochondria, oxygen is required for the process. Regrettably, this metabolic pathway also gives rise to free radicals, byproducts that induce oxidative stress. To shield our mitochondria and counteract oxidative damage, prioritizing an intake of antioxidants becomes imperative. Yet, a diet dominated by inflammatory substances, refined sugars, and processed foods while lacking in antioxidant-rich greens, vegetables, and fruits, fosters an accumulation of free radicals. Consequently, this imbalance sets off inflammation, instigates cellular and tissue damage, and disrupts mitochondrial function.
In addition to an unhealthy diet, insufficient sleep, sedentary behaviour, and chronic stress can elevate the likelihood of inflammation, oxidative harm, and mitochondrial concerns. Your mitochondria act as the energy suppliers for your cells and overall well being. When compromised by detrimental lifestyle choices, these essential powerhouses can lead to distressing symptoms and significant health repercussions.
Symptoms of mitochondrial issues can manifest in various forms and may include a range of physical and cognitive challenges. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. Here are the more common ones:
• Loss of motor control, coordination, or balance
• Trouble walking
• Digestive problems, such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux • Muscle aches, pains, and weakness
• Cardiovascular problems and heart disease
• Liver disease or dysfunction
• Kidney disease
• Neurological problems
• Respiratory problems
• Hormonal disorders, such as lack of estrogen or testosterone
• Higher susceptibility to infections and illness
So what can we do?
By implementing straightforward and natural approaches, we can enhance the health of our mitochondria and lower the chances of experiencing mitochondrial issues and related symptoms. Here are some of the top recommended dietary and lifestyle strategies:
Nourishing Nutrition: Eliminate inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar and carbs, inflammatory fats (canola oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil etc.) gluten (if sensitive), and artificial ingredients from your diet. Eat plenty of greens, vegetables, herbs, and fruits that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Fill up on healthy fats, such as avocados, coconut oil, coconut butter, grass-fed butter and ghee, MCT oils, and organic pasture-raised eggs. Focus on clean proteins, such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, pasture-raised poultry and wild game.
Regular Exercise: It’s important for us to move our bodies in order to achieve optimal health and well-being. However, the average individual spends around 13 hours a day sitting. Fortunately, regular exercise can have numerous benefits for our mitochondrial health. It helps to maintain muscle tone, improve sleep quality, boost the immune
system, enhance cognitive abilities, and even increase our lifespan. Aerobic exercise, in particular, can bring about positive changes in the shape of our mitochondria, aid in their repair, and promote a healthy balance of mitochondrial cells.
In a study, it was discovered that interval training led to a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity among younger participants, and a remarkable 69% improvement among older individuals. This is especially significant because the aging process tends to reduce the body’s ability to produce mitochondria. Therefore, exercise appears to slow down this
process and enhance mitochondrial function, even later in life.
Stress Reduction: Individuals with mitochondrial problems often experience fatigue, which can lead to additional symptoms and health issues. If you’re facing symptoms related to mitochondrial issues, it becomes crucial to reduce stress. Persistent stress can cause inflammation, weaken the immune system, and contribute to fatigue. All of
these factors increase the risk of mitochondrial damage and associated symptoms. Incorporating practices like regular meditation, breathing exercises, mindset strategies, and therapy can help you better manage and respond to stress. Engaging in activities such as journaling, colouring, yoga, exercise, spending time in nature, and uplifting hobbies can also help reduce stress levels and boost your mood
Quality Sleep: It also becomes key to improve your sleep habits. Research suggests that getting less than seven hours of sleep per night can lead to a decrease in mitochondrial DNA in the blood and impaired cellular function. Even short-term sleep deprivation can disrupt mitochondrial function and increase oxidative stress. To enhance our mitochondrial function, it’s important to prioritize 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep each night. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and engaging in a relaxing nighttime routine can help you fall asleep more easily and obtain quality sleep throughout the night.
Intermittent fasting can have remarkable benefits for improving our mitochondrial health. When you fast, a process called autophagy helps eliminate damaged mitochondria.
Autophagy plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of mitochondria. It allows them to get rid of damaged components, unwanted waste, and harmful substances like reactive oxygen and nitrogen species and unfolded proteins that can cause various problems.
Red light therapy: Red light therapy (RLT) is a type of low-level laser therapy. With RLT, your body is exposed to low-wavelength red lights that can penetrate deep into your skin. Unlike the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, RLT is safe and does not cause skin burns.
When we stand or sit a few inches away from an RLT device, we won’t get a tan or sunburn. Instead, the body receives the benefits of the red light at a cellular level, as it penetrates deep inside. This process can potentially increase cellular energy and the presence of antioxidants in your body.
Research has shown that through red light therapy, the mitochondria in our skin cells can absorb the beneficial light particles. This absorption leads to the creation of more ATP energy, which is then used to fuel all the cells in our body. The extra energy provided to our cells through RLT can support rejuvenation and repair processes.
Supplements: From a supplement perspective, we can explore the inclusion of certain nutrients aimed at bolstering mitochondrial function. Examples of these nutrients include CoQ10, L-carnitine, B vitamins, Magnesium, ALA, Creatine, Resveratrol, Curcumin, Glutathione and D-ribose. The selection of supplements should be guided by individual symptoms and current health concerns. It’s imperative to collaborate with a healthcare practitioner to ascertain the most suitable options for your specific needs.
By following some of these simple yet effective strategies, we can positively impact our mitochondrial health, promoting overall well-being and reducing the risk of mitochondrial-related issues and associated symptoms.
In health & happiness,
Dr. Barb Woegerer, ND