When people think about their health and well-being, they usually mostly focus on issues that are easy to identify. Maybe you need to lose weight, or maybe you suffer from fatigue. Maybe your blood pressure should be lower, or you have diabetes. However, the human body is incredibly complex, and often, to treat the symptoms, you need to treat the underlying issues, which might even be hidden on the cellular level. One of the most important aspects of cellular health is mitochondrial function.
What Does Mitochondria Do for Your Body?
Mitochondria are a part of the cell in which many important metabolic processes take place. The most important is probably energy metabolism. Using protein complexes called electron transport chains, the mitochondria transform the carbohydrates from our food into energy in the process of ATP production.
ATP production is the production of adenosine triphosphate – a molecule that stores the energy needed for the cell’s normal functioning. This part of mitochondrial dynamics is called glucose metabolism.
Mitochondria are also involved in other processes, such as mitochondrial respiration, and natural cell death. These processes occur at the right pace and sequences, when your body maintains good mitochondrial health.
What Causes Mitochondrial Dysfunction?
Mitochondrial dysfunction happens when the mitochondria are not able to do their job as efficiently as they should. The cause could be mitochondrial damage or mutations in the mitochondrial DNA.
One of the common culprits for damaged mitochondria is reactive oxygen species. These highly charged free radicals can lead to oxidative damage, a lower mitochondrial mass, or a compromised mitochondrial membrane, causing dysfunctional mitochondria.
When mitochondria health suffers long-term damage, that can lead to permanent mitochondrial abnormalities. These mutations usually manifest themselves in the form of hereditary chronic diseases.
Many factors can cause these changes. A diet which lacks all the necessary nutrients, lack of physical exercise, stress, and environmental toxins can all cause structural and functional damage to the mitochondria.
What Are the Symptoms of Compromised Mitochondrial Function?
Oxidative stress can lead to a weakened mitochondrial function. The symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction are numerous and vary greatly in both nature and intensity. They can manifest in any part of the body and are difficult to diagnose.
Mitochondrial disease can affect brain cells, cause fatigue, and lead to cardiovascular disease – among other things. Symptoms and related health issues range from relatively mild, like brain fog, to extremely serious, like cancer, liver damage, metabolic diseases and a whole host of other human diseases.
How Does Oxidative Stress Affect Mitochondrial Function?
Oxidative stress is one of the biggest enemies of a healthy mitochondrial function. Research suggests that one of the biggest concerns is when the mitochondria in cells lose oxygen and high energy molecules. This phenomenon is linked to a shorter life span. When the mitochondria are protected, life expectancy rises. In order to slow down aging, it’s crucial to do your best to improve mitochondrial function.
Metabolic disorders of the mitochondria happen when oxidative stress becomes too much for the mitochondria to handle.
How to Boost Your Cell’s Energy Production?
Our cells must constantly work to produce energy. The reason for that is the fact that ATP molecules cannot be stored in the cells. Cell survival depends on the constant production of energy. For that reason, energy depletion equals the death of the cell.
In your daily life, insufficient ATP production leads to a feeling of energy loss and fatigue. How to boost ATP production? The most effective ways are proper hydration, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise.
For this ATP production process to really have an effect on your body, you need to have enough mitochondria first. So, how do they even come to be? Through proper mitochondrial genesis.
Why Is Mitochondrial Biogenesis Important?
When they think about the parts that are inside a cell, most people imagine that there is one of each. However, in the case of mitochondria, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The number of mitochondria present in most human cells is in the hundreds of thousands.
Mitochondria are constantly merging and dividing in processes called mitochondrial fusion and fission. The reason for this is because the mitochondria constantly share and mix materials.
For that reason, creation of new mitochondria leads to higher energy levels and a faster, healthier metabolism.
Can Dietary Supplements Make a Difference?
There is some evidence to suggest certain supplements might have a positive effect. Here are some of the most effective ones.
Alpha lipoic acid
These fatty acids are necessary for sugar breakdown in mitochondrial metabolism. Alpha lipoic acid is also a fundamental antioxidant and can be helpful in reducing oxidative stress. This supplement may be of special use for improving mitochondrial function in brain cells, because it is fat soluble. That means it is able to cross from the blood into the brain.
Carnitine is an amino acid that helps important chemicals enter the mitochondria and facilitates the removal of toxic metabolites from it. Animal models showed that its use can reverse the damage and increase the size of the mitochondria. Carnitine can also improve lung function and oxygenation of muscle cells during exercise.
The Role of Intermittent Fasting in Improving Mitochondrial Health
A crucial molecule that promotes mitochondrial function is called Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This co-enzyme plays an important role in the mitochondrial electron transport chain and the process of oxidative phosphorylation.
Fasting intermittently can increase the levels of NAD, and this in turn boosts your energy and your mitochondrial quality.
Multiple cell studies have also linked fasting with the processes of apoptosis and autophagy. Apoptotic cell death is a mitochondrial quality control of sorts. It’s a mechanism which identifies damaged cells and triggers the self-destruction process in them.
How a Healthy Diet Protects Mitochondria
A healthy diet provides mitochondria with the nutrients they need to function.
The metabolic processes in the mitochondria start with the metabolism of carbohydrates. Here are some dietary changes that might help you support your mitochondrial health.
An excessive caloric intake can lead to excessive formation of free radicals during energy production. It can also lead to obesity, which in turn causes inflammation. All of this slows down metabolic processes and causes damage to the mitochondria.
Load Up on Vegetables
Vegetables, especially leafy greens such as spinach, as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale, are packed with antioxidants. These molecules protect the mitochondria by neutralizing free radicals. The most beneficial antioxidant found in vegetables is mitochondrial glutathione.
Eat Lean Protein
Protein is of great importance for the health of your mitochondria. The metabolic processes in the mitochondria rely heavily on several protein complexes. Not all protein is created equal, though. Choose lean meats, free-range eggs and fish with low levels of mercury.
Physical Exercise and Improved Mitochondrial Function
One of the health benefits of exercise is improvement in mitochondrial bioenergetics. The primary mechanism through which this happens is an increase in the use of oxygen by the skeletal muscle tissue.
The NAD levels also rise and stimulate the production of mitochondrial proteins. Some evidence suggests that regular physical activity can support the formation of new mitochondria.
High intensity interval training is particularly effective in boosting the number of mitochondria. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that HIIT is also excellent for increasing muscle mass.
How Red Light Therapy Improves Mitochondrial Function
One of the best ways to support your mitochondria and slow down the aging process is regular red light therapy. A decrease in mitochondrial function is normal as we age. In fact, this decrease is somewhat of a vicious cycle.
Do we age because our mitochondria don’t work as well as they used to, or do our mitochondria lose efficiency because we age? The answer is – both.
With a portable device, long wave light can reach under the skin and penetrate the cells. While blue light might negatively impact ATP production and even cause cell death, red and near-infrared light supports the mitochondria.
How does it work, exactly? The mitochondrial electron transport chain reacts to light of these wavelengths, and delivers a boost to the production of adenosine triphosphate. In some cells, this was also linked to beneficial changes in redox signaling.
Redox signaling is a process which supports cellular homeostasis and proliferation. In simple words – red light not only creates the conditions for the body to function optimally down to its smallest cell, but also rejuvenates it through the process of cell division.