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Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Holtorf Medical Group

There is not a single cause for developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), but multiple, underlying factors, which go mostly undetected by untrained physicians. One of these underlying factors is mitochondrial dysfunction.

What Are Mitochondria?

Each cell in our bodies has tiny components called mitochondria, whose job is to convert nutrients into energy. They are often called the “furnaces” within each cell.

Mitochondria supply energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is the universal currency of energy. It can be used for all sorts of biochemical jobs from muscle contraction to hormone production. When mitochondria fail, this results in a poor supply of ATP, so cells go slow because they do not have the energy supply to function at a normal speed. This means that all bodily functions slow down.

The hypothalamus and pituitary are especially sensitive to any malfunction, which can cause fatigue. Mitochondria can be poisoned by environmental neurotoxins, pesticides, chronic bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, and nutritional and hormone deficiencies.

How Does Mitochondrial Dysfunction Affect CFS Patients?

A study in Great Britain demonstrated that 70% of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients have ultra-structurally abnormal mitochondria. When the mitochondria are not working properly, the cells and tissues of the body are starved for energy. This will make the body rely on anaerobic metabolism, resulting in fatigue, muscle pain, poor concentration, gastrointestinal dysfunction, headaches, and poor recovery from exercise.

Going deeper than that, here are some symptoms of CFS that occur at the cellular level when the mitochondria function improperly:

Low Cardiac Output

If mitochondria, little engines found inside every cell in the body, do not work properly then the energy supply to every cell in the body will be impaired. This includes the heart. Many of the symptoms of CFS could be explained by heart failure because the heart muscle cannot work properly.

In CFS the heart failure is caused by poor muscle function, meaning the function of the heart will be very abnormal, but traditional tests of heart failure, such as ECG, ECHOs, angiograms, etc., will be normal.

Chest Pain

This common symptom in CFS patients results when energy delivery to the muscles is impaired, generating a symptom of angina, or chest pain. Poor blood supply and a lack of oxygen are usually the causes most doctors recognize as the reasons for chest pain. However, the mitochondria are responsible for converting the oxygen into ATP energy. With slow or dysfunctional mitochondria unable to convert oxygen quickly, chest pain can result. Clinically this does not look like standard angina so doctors may tell patients that they have non-typical chest pain, implying nothing is wrong. However, there could be a mitochondrial failure in the heart.

Effects on the Skin

The skin is responsible for controlling the temperature of the body. By shutting down the blood supply to the skin, CFS patients become intolerant of heat. If the microcirculation in the skin is shut down, then the body cannot sweat. This is a major way through which toxins, particularly heavy metals, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds are excreted. Therefore, the CFS sufferer’s body is much better at accumulating toxins, which of course further damages mitochondria.

Symptoms in Muscles

If the blood supply to muscles is impaired, then muscles quickly run out of oxygen when one starts to exercise. With no oxygen in the muscles, the cells switch over to anaerobic metabolism, which produces lactic acid and is what makes muscles ache so much.

Symptoms in the Liver and Gut

Poor blood supply to the gut results in inefficient digestion, poor production of digestive juices, and leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome causes many other problems such as allergies, autoimmunity, malabsorption, etc., which further compounds the problems of CFS. If liver circulation is inadequate, this will result in poor detoxification, further poisoning the mitochondria.

Effects on the Brain

The blood supply to some areas of the brain in CFS patients is impaired. The default is temporary and with rest, blood supply recovers. However, this explains the multiplicity of brain symptoms suffered from, such as poor short-term memory, difficulty multi-tasking, slow mental processing, and so on. Furthermore, brain cells are not particularly well stocked with mitochondria and therefore they run out of energy very quickly. Explanation of the Fatigue Problems in CFS Patients

If the cell is not very efficient at recycling adenosine triphosphate (ATP) then the cell runs out of energy very quickly and this causes the symptoms of weakness and poor stamina in CFS sufferers. The cell literally has to “hibernate” and wait until more ATP has been manufactured, which will take the body several days to make, from new ingredients.

Mitochondrial function can be boosted by removing the offending agent when it can be identified, such as infection, toxin, or hormone deficiency, and by supplementing with mitochondria nutritional support. There are a number of supplements and agents that can be very effective.

If you or someone are struggling with mitochondrial dysfunction or CFS but aren't getting the help you need, contact us today to see how we can help you! At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your condition, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life.


Holtorf Medical GroupThe Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.


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