Mitochondria are tiny parts of our cells that produce energy. Striped like zebras, the name mitochondria comes from "threads" (Greek mitos) that stripe across their bodies that look like little "granules" (Greek chondrion). As a part of a cell, they are called an "organelle".
Mitochondria generate most of the cell's energy through ATP. ATP stands for Adenonsine Tri-Phosphate. ATP transfers energy within cells to support metabolism. Metabolism basically describes the processes of life and transformation and creation of things, that happen in a cell. ATP releases energy when one phosphate group is detached from the main molecule, and this energy then drives the process that the cell needs to create and live and "breathe". Oxygen and food, are the two sources that mitochondria use to create energy.
Your brain uses up to 4.7 billion ATP molecules per second.
Mitochondria were first discovered in the white waterlily, Nymphaea alba. Scientists beautifully named two parts of the mitochondria, calling the inner membrane folds the "cristae" and the inner part within the inner membrane the "matrix". The material needed to make the ATP is located in the matrix, and the cristae are folded to create more surface area on which is the enzyme that creates the ATP. Cells that need more energy, like heart or muscle cells, have more cristae.
In mammals, including humans, the mitochondria will replicate by binary fission, which is a splitting of two, based on the cell's energy needs. If the cell has more energy needs, then more mitochondria are created. If the cell has less energy needs, less mitochondria are created, or mitochondria become inactive or are even destroyed.
When a baby is created, the mitochondria from the mother's cell, the egg, are preserved and contribute to all the cells of the baby's body, whereas the father's mitochondria are marked for destruction, and do not contribute to the baby's cells and thus energy. So, literally, you get your energy from your mother.
The mitochondrial DNA is circular, a large circle of genetic instructions that the mitochondria uses as needed. A circular library. The circular shape may enhance resilience, but this is simply a theory at present. A beautiful fact, with unknown significance.
Studies are revealing, that when the mitochondria are healthy, the whole body functions better. Not surprising given that energy is a valuable part of the functioning of the body. Mitochondria are also important for hormone regulation, as they convert cholesterol to pregnenolone, which is the precursor to all other hormones.
Impaired mitochondrial function may be linked to neuro-degeneration and impaired brain health as theorized in the following areas of research: stress-related diseases, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other areas of brain health. Now a strong focus of aging research, theories on how to avoid aging through exercise and improved mitochondrial health are evolving.
How do we steward, or care for, these jewels of energy creation in the vast landscapes of our bodies? The following are based on theories from some of the experts studying the impact of lifestyle on mitochondria, including those supported by the Mayo Clinic, a doctor who reversed her own multiple sclerosis, and Dave Asprey, authour of Bulletproof and director of 40 Years of Zen:
How the mitochondria are damaged; what to AVOID:
- living a sedentary lifestyle, the "sitting disease"
- processed food and sugars, and high glycemic index foods: Dr. Warburg won the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his studies that showed that cancer cells stop using mitochondria and start using glucose, or sugar, only; high glucose levels cause the mitochondria to use sugar instead of hte body also relying on fat for fuel
- toxins, including pesticides; avoid antibiotics when not necessary as mitochondria have a DNA very similar to bacteria, and may suffer when exposed to antibiotics; toxins filter into their processes and can cause damage
- over-stimulation of the sensory system
- chronic stress and fatigue, seek treatment or change your lifestyle if this is occurring
- inflammation: physical or psychological
- excess fuel when there is little metabolic action: avoid eating when resting, before bed, or the excess fuel will lead to more processing of the mitochondria without use, leading to more free radicals which damage mitochondria
How to nourish the mitochondria; what TO DO:
- exercise to increase mitochondria, and stimulate autophagy, or destruction, of unhealthy cells
- intermittent fasting, to give rest to mitochondrial processing
- antioxidants to reduce free radical damage to mitochondria
- feed your mitochondria important co-factors that assist mitochondrial function: CoQ10, L-carnitine, D-ribose, magnesium, zinc, sulfur, omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and alpha lipoic acid; try to get these from natural food sources where possible.
- assess and correct nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity, inflammation with a functional medicine doctor: CRP, homocysteine, Lp-PLA2
- eat low glycemic index foods
- Cordyceps militaris, a Chinese anti-aging mushroom, protects mitochondria from damage: scavenging reactive oxygen species that would otherwise damage + inhibit swelling + increase antioxidase activity
- Panax ginseng protects mitochondria from damage: antihypoxia, antioxidation, improved energy status
- stabilize the heart's electromagnetic field, to support the power grid networks that mitochondria use to provide stability to heart muscle
- glutathione (iv or im): reduces muscular fatigue
- drink raw fresh vegetable juices, fresh spring water, glacial melt water, or expose your eyes to unfiltered sunlight several minutes a day, to support the exclusion zone water that runs in the microtubules that transit your mitochondria
- consume polyphenols
- boost your parasympathetic nervous system with yoga, sound healing, floating
So which of all the above, to do first? Our world today is characterized by a parallel process, with western medicine and naturopathic medicine giving options as to how to improve health. Both these areas of health, however, promote the purchase and taking of substances. Somehow, we are trained to think of how to get more, and this way of thinking can lead to long receipts from the grocery store listing supplement after supplement.
I encourage you to think outside the box, and instead focus first on what you can actively do, rather than what to consume. The sedentary lifestyle is increasing being found to be deleterious. As such, your first step to mitochondrial health may be rather an action, than a consumption, such as choosing daily exercise, which is essentially free and available to all. To counteract the "consumerism" of our society, consider intermittent fasting. With the emerging research on electromagnetic health, educate yourself on heart math and the electromagnetic field that you and your body produces, including your emotions. Learn how to approach emotions and challenges in ways that allow for an adaptive response from your electromagnetic field, and that allows for your beautiful mitochondria to continue to link up in power grids that support heart health. Cultivate nourishing emotions. When choosing foods, choose as many as possible that are nutrient or mineral rich. When choosing supplements, choose those in glass bottles or powders or liquid forms, that thus are not exposed to the off-gassing of plastic. Consider combining your own powder to use daily, with cordyceps and panax ginseng as part of the formula. Find a way such that supplementation and consumption is an easy and small part of your health plan. Educate yourself as to emerging information on longevity and youthfulness, and how this relates to mitochondria. Be creative, be thoughtful, be precise, and make choices that you enjoy and savor, and that beautifully protect your energy.
Tend your beautiful mitochondria garden.
~ Dr. M.
Sources for above approaches:
- Intermittent fasting: Reinald Pamplona.
- Nutritional mitochondrial support: Jordan Fallis, and Dr. Terry Wahls.
- Mitochondria and psychiatric illness: Jou et al, 2009, and Rezin et al, 2009, and Anglin et al, 2012.
- Cordyceps emerging research: Li et al, 2010, and Das et al, 2010.
- Panax ginseng research: Li et al, 2009.
- High intensity interval exercise boosts mitochondria and prevents aging: Mayo Clinic, 2017.
- Power grid mitochondrial networks: Mayo Clinic 2017, Heart Math.
- Glutathione, Mayo Clinic 2016.
- Heart Math.
- Head Strong, by David Asprey.