It has recently been discovered that mitochondria have a much broader role in health, aging, and disease than previously imagined. As a result, mitochondrial research has become one of the fastest growing areas in research today. Mitochondria produce 90% of the energy that fuels the body, and when they don’t function properly, you don’t either. The hallmark of mitochondrial dysfunction is fatigue, but there are other consequences that aren’t as obvious. Historically, they have been revered as the “mighty mitochondria”, known for converting food and oxygen to usable energy. However, new information punctuates their significant role in immune function. Although there are seemingly endless questions yet to be answered, a wealth of information is already available for improving one’s own health and wellbeing.
Mitochondria: What, Where and How
Aside from inborn primary mitochondrial diseases that are present at birth, many mitochondrial related disorders are the product of years of damage. Common mitochondrial related neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are well known examples. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also implicated in conditions such as cardiovascular disease, autism, diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Cells have various concentrations of mitochondria depending on the organ or tissue, therefore symptoms are often associated with the cells having the highest concentrations i.e. brain, heart, liver and muscles. The brain is only 2% of the body weight but uses up to 20% of the body’s energy. Similarly, there are approximately 5000 mitochondria in a heart cell and 200 in a muscle cell. The variability in density also accounts for common signs of aging, which equates to diminishing mitochondrial function. The following list includes factors that influence mitochondrial health:
It may seem that everything affects the mitochondria. The upside of such a broad spectrum is that there are many ways that mitochondrial health can be positively influenced. Digging deeper into what this means at a cellular level provides further insight.
Mitochondria, Oxidative Stress and Immune Response
Mitochondria are like cells within a cell, each having their own mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that regularly replicate. While relying on nutrients to facilitate biochemical reactions, the intricate factories of complexes within the mitochondria, cooperate to make energy in the form of ATP. As energy is produced, free radicals are generated as byproducts, much like exhaust from an engine. These byproducts cause damage to the mitochondrial structure as well as mutations to mtDNA.
In order to protect against free radical damage, the body produces antioxidants, (i.e. glutathione). We are born with an abundance, yet as we age antioxidant production diminishes. The consequence of fewer antioxidants is a surplus of free radicals, a condition known as oxidative stress. This process underlies aging and disease. Studies have found that reduced antioxidant levels and other markers of oxidative stress also correlate with disease severity. The damage creates a perpetual cycle.
Research has also found that injured mitochondria trigger an immune response similar to that of an infection. An immune response means inflammation and persistent inflammation sets the stage for disease. Inflammation itself is not bad, for it is an essential immune response to an infection or injury. The problem occurs when the immune response is sustained over time without resolution, often referred to as “chronic inflammation”. Just as mitochondria can cause inflammation, inflammation damages mitochondria. In summary, oxidative stress and inflammation are closely linked to many chronic diseases and compromise overall immune function.
Preventative Measures Are Best
Things aren’t as grim as they may sound. This information highlights the importance of being proactive, considering that effects of mutated mtDNA don’t become apparent until a high percentage is damaged. It is like a bucket filling with raindrops, going unnoticed until it begins to overflow. Seemingly out of nowhere comes an illness, when actually it may have been developing for years. This is precisely why it’s important to proactively support your mitochondria and minimize damage. Even if health issues already exist, by taking positive steps forward, things can improve. After all, new mitochondria are always being formed (biogenesis).
Optimizing Mitochondrial Health
The keys to mitochondrial health include minimizing oxidative stress and providing mitochondrial support, including promotion of mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondria rely heavily on nutrients to function properly, yet maintaining optimal nutrient levels usually requires some effort. Although one might expect that a sufficient supply of nutrients is readily attained through dietary sources, yet that is not always the case. Common reasons for deficiencies include stress, restricted diets, aging, medications, conditions that impair nutrient absorption and lifestyle. It’s important to remember that individual requirements are often greater than what’s deemed necessary by the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). Supplementing for deficiencies targeted for mitochondrial health is an excellent way to fill in any gaps. Fortunately, HoltraCeuticals’ MitoImmune provides a comprehensive blend of ingredients targeting mitochondria in a convenient pill. Since a multi-faceted approach is optimal, other tips are listed below.
- Boost mitochondrial energy- Eat a low carbohydrate, moderate-high protein, plant based, nutrient dense diet, full of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. Supplement with mitochondrial co-factors, i.e. Acetyl-l-carnitine, B vitamins, magnesium, and alpha lipoic acid.
- Support detoxification- Clear the body of damaging toxins with milk thistle, turmeric, dandelion root, N-acetylcysteine, herbs and spices, and probiotics.
- Boost antioxidant capacity- CoQ10, Green tea, Resveratrol, Vitamins C, D & E.
- Exercise is invaluable for activating mitochondria biogenesis.
- Diet: Avoid sugar, fried or processed foods, and food sensitivities. Do not overeat.
- Medications: Statins, such as Lipitor deplete CoQ10 and impair mitochondrial function. There are a variety of other medications that are considered to be “mito toxic”.
- Pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical pollutants cause oxidative stress.
- Smoking: Increases damage to mtDNA and mitochondrial structure.
- Stress: It doesn’t cause disease directly but plays a role in many body symptoms. It also depletes important mitochondrial cofactors, i.e. Magnesium, B vitamins, and ascorbic acid.
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