Mitochondria are tiny organelles within a cell whose primary job is to produce energy in the form of ATP. In fact, mitochondria are often called “the powerhouse” of the cell as they produce almost 90% of the energy the body requires to function.
There are hundreds of mitochondria in a cell, functioning to process oxygen, and convert food into usable energy. This multi-step process operates much like a factory. Free radicals are the byproducts (“pollutants”) that are generated. Though these typically don’t cause any harm, an excess can lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction, all of which are the foundation for aging and disease.
Below we consider the importance of mitochondria and how to support your mitochondrial health.
The Importance of Mitochondria
Because mitochondria are responsible for producing a significant amount of the body’s energy, they are essential for the function of major organs. The brain, heart, and liver have the greatest density of mitochondria, as they require the most energy.
The brain consumes approximately 25% of the body’s energy, making proper mitochondrial function vital for brain health.
Although some mitochondrial dysfunction is inevitable as we age, there is evidence to suggest that such dysfunction plays a role in degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This is because the decrease in blood flow associated with aging limits the amount of glucose available to the brain’s mitochondria for energy production. This causes neurons to degenerate, which disrupts function in critical areas such as the hippocampus (leads to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s) and the substantia nigra pars compacta (causes problems with motor skills in Parkinson’s).
Moreover, studies conducted on rats suggest that lower concentrations of ATP (caused by mitochondrial dysfunction) contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This was discovered by exposing “equally anxious” rats to drugs that either inhibited or enhanced mitochondrial energy production. The rats who had their mitochondrial function inhibited were more likely to submit to their companions and exhibit anxious behaviors.
Given that the heart beats approximately 115,000 times and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood daily, it requires a significant amount of energy and therefore, mitochondria. In fact, 40% of each heart muscle consists of mitochondria.
Because mitochondria are vital for the heart, mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to numerous cardiac diseases such as atherosclerosis, ischemia-reperfusion injury, hypertension, diabetes, cardiac hypertrophy, and even heart failure. This occurs when the body is no longer equipped to eliminate mitochondrial byproducts such as oxidative stress.
Because the liver is the central organ for the homeostasis and metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids, mitochondria are essential for regulating the levels of metabolites in the cell. In other words, mitochondria in the liver help adjust and regulate the body’s energetic demand and detoxification.
25% of each liver cell consists of mitochondria as they help metabolize ammonia into its less toxic form, urea. Thus, if liver circulation is inadequate, this will result in poor detoxification, which can poison the mitochondria.
Supporting Your Mitochondria
- Supplement with glutathione: Produced primarily in the liver, glutathione kills free radicals, boosts immunity, and is the body’s chief detoxifying agent. The importance of glutathione’s function is illustrated in the fact that every organ system in the body has diseases associated with reduced levels. When levels are low, mitochondria function is impaired; conversely, impaired mitochondria compromise glutathione.
- Supplement with CoQ10: CoQ10 is stored in mitochondria and is necessary for ATP production. Therefore, without an adequate supply of CoQ10, cells can experience a cellular energy deficit resulting in widespread dysfunction. Issues associated with poor CoQ10 levels include heart disease, Fibromyalgia, neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, muscle conditions, cancer, and others.
- Eat Plenty of Protein: Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds, beans/lentils, and eggs help support amino acids like glutathione that protect the mitochondria.
- Incorporate Healthy Fats: Healthy fats such as avocadoes, coconut oil, and olive oil help fuel mitochondria as well as protect them by providing anti-inflammatory support. These are also ‘fuel’ for the mitochondria.
- Practice Regular Detox Methods: Because mitochondria are sensitive to toxins, it is important to practice detoxifying methods to avoid compromising mitochondrial function. Learn about regular detox practices here.
If you or someone are struggling with mitochondrial dysfunction 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.
*Always consult your doctor before beginning supplementation