Mitochondria Health: The New Frontier In Wellness
Move over genomes, inflammation, antioxidants, free radicals, gut health, collagen; there’s a new term and health awareness that is taking center stage, mitochondria health. Mitochondria are microscopic organelles that power cells; they are the source for over 90 percent of the body’s energy. Nutrients and oxygen are converted into energy “currents” by the mitochondria and enable the body to function. Most cells have approximately 2,000 mitochondria; the heart has about 5,000.
Interestingly, mitochondria have their own DNA and therefore can’t defend against free radicals. So, they are susceptible to free radical assault – free radicals are a leading cause of major diseases like cancer.
Also, mitochondria malfunction is believed to be behind diseases associated with aging, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, osteoarthritis’s, etc. This association is because mitochondria become less efficient as we age. In addition, nonfunctioning mitochondria accelerate aging. The is a direct correlation between the rate your body ages and how well your mitochondria works.
Chronological age is not equivalent to biological age. You may be 50 years old chronologically but 40 years old biologically. Your biological age is mostly dependent on the health of the mitochondria. While aging can’t be stopped, the good news is that by keeping your mitochondria healthy, you can biologically age slower and hold off diseases. Research suggests intermittent fasting, specific nutrients, and exercise are the three factors that can control the health of mitochondria.
Fasting is one of the ways to reduce excessive free radical production which can cause mitochondrial dysfunction. As mentioned, mtDNA cannot protect or repair itself from free radicals.
According to Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D. who studies mitochondria and their effect on the body, fasting forces cells to use mitochondria for energy which activate the mitochondria. Fasting, she says, is also crucial for clearing away damaged cells or dysfunctional cells. These damaged cells hang around secreting molecules that promote inflammation which in turn hasten the aging process.
Intermittent fasting isn’t as disruptive as long fasts and may be healthier; it’s more like taking an extended break from food for hours and not days. For example, with the 16:8 fast, you eat all your meals within an 8-hour period and nothing for 16 hours. Most of the fasting times occur overnight which makes it a little easier to do.
It’s important to note that to improve the functioning of the mitochondria, you shouldn’t go to sleep soon after eating. The body burns the least number of calories while sleeping. So, if the body uses energy while sleeping to digest food, it increases the chance of excessive free radicals being produced and prevents the nonfunctioning mitochondria from being cleared away. It’s recommended to wait at least two hours before going to bed after eating and wait longer after a heavy meal.
Nutrients and Mitochondria
Nutrients are essential to mitochondria as a source of energy and to deliver necessary antioxidant protection to hold off free radicals. According to several human and animals studies the nutrients below support mitochondria and may be helpful for diseases related to damaged mitochondria. It’s always best to get nutrients from foods rather than supplements.
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3 (niacin)
- Vitamins C, E, K
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- Lipoic Acid
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Ginkgo Biloba[i]
Mitochondria work harder when you exercise which produces more mitochondria. Studies show that functioning mitochondria were higher in people who regularly ran than people with sedentary lifestyles.
In another study at Mayo Clinic, findings showed that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was more effective than strength training in improving mitochondria volume. However, Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, one of the authors of the study, recommends doing both HIIT and strength training.
Medical research into mitochondria and its effect on the body is a new frontier in the understanding of the aging process and how diseases are acquired. While this is very significant, knowing we can influence the health of our mitochondria is also very important.
Can changes in mitochondrial DNA affect health and development? Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/mutationsanddisorders/mitochondrialconditions.
English, James. Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Nutrition and Aging (September 21, 2013). Retrieved from https://nutritionreview.org/2013/09/mitochondrial-dysfunction/.
Fung, Jason, M.D. Intermittent fasting for beginners ( March 2018). Retrieved from https://www.dietdoctor.com/intermittent-fasting.
Mercola, Dr. How Your Mitochondria Influence Your Health. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/24/how-mitochondria-influences-health.aspx.
Oz, Mehmet, Md. Why We Were Wrong: L-Carnitine (May 22, 2013). Retrieved from http://blog.doctoroz.com/dr-oz-blog/why-we-were-wrong-l-carnitine.
[i] English, James, Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Nutrition and Aging, Web.