Mitochondria - Your Energy Power house
Did you know that the body needs oxygen for other reasons besides for the purpose of breathing? We need oxygen to produce energy in the body. The place where all the energy is produced is the mitochondrion (if referring to one) and mitochondria (if referring to many). Mitochondria are known as organelles, which are cellular structures with a special function. There are other organelles such as the nucleus and the endoplasmic reticulum. Some cells have around a 100 mitochondria and others have thousands of them such as vital organs like the heart. Mitochondria produce a chemical energy in the form of a molecule called ATP. ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, which is particularly good at transferring its energy to the cells for important functions like moving, breathing, digestion and cellular reproduction. If the mitochondria has dysfunction for some reason it can lead to reduced ATP production, impaired calcium buffering, and generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Not only do mitochondria produce energy in the form of ATP, but they are responsible for killing off cells when the body needs them to. This process is known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is a crucial part of our normal cell functioning, since there are often cells we need to get rid of when they are damaged or unhealthy. We are realizing now that when mitochondria are damaged they may turn this process of apoptosis against healthy cells in the body, leading to many different autoimmune diseases. In simple terms when mitochondria get damaged, they start mistakenly sending a signal to kill off good cells instead of unhealthy ones. Imagine that for a minute, your own body killing off healthy cells.
Sometimes the mitochondria get damaged very easily by free radicals, which are noxious agents that come from things that we ingest, breath in and touch. These free radicals produce what’s known as oxidative stress or “rust”. When we are exposed to chemicals or other molecular compounds our mitochondria can rust. We may also take note that oxidative damage to the mitochondrial DNA actually occur five to ten times the rate of normal DNA.
Unfortunately alcohol is the anti-mitochondrial chemical above all others! There is almost nothing that destroys healthy mitochondria as quickly and lowers your body’s ability to make ATP. Processed food or refined foods, especially those with high carbohydrate (sugar) contents. That means food like white bread, soda, sugars, and sweeteners are real mitochondria killers. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are all mitochondria killing, so a diet of organic foods and pastured raised organic meats are of the utmost importance.
These toxins whether food or chemical compromise the mitochondria by starving them out of oxygen. The body will work harder and use the oxygen to fight off toxins instead of producing energy for other key functions. We will then have less oxygen available and we will produce less and less ATP. This will then lead to fatigue, brain fog, headaches, stiffness, joint pain and a weakened immune system. Are you resonating yet? I certainly did! If your mitochondria is compromised your metabolism slows down. This means you process the metabolic waste less efficiently so it builds up and clogs up in the tissues and systems. This uses more of the ATP available for basic bodily functions and less toward keeping you healthy.
Loss of function in the mitochondria, can result in the excess fatigue and other symptoms that are common complaints in almost every chronic disease. Many scientists theorize that the damage done to the mitochondria produce mutations in DNA, leading to the reproduction of cancerous cells. It has been hypothesized by research groups worldwide that defective mitochondrial metabolism sets up a cascade of pathological events that initiates Alzheimer’s disease.
The most well-known prescription drug that destroys the number and physiology of mitochondria are statin drugs. In fact, a 2010 report from the National Center for Health Statistics published that in the United States alone, one out of four Americans over the age of forty five are taking a statin. The most common side effect is to your muscles, or more accurately to the mitochondria in the muscles. The pain in the muscles is due to the destruction of mitochondria caused by the statins.
Water is crucial in the metabolism and breakdown of fats in our body as well as shuttling away toxins to be excreted out of the body. BPA or Bisphenol A, is a chemical that many of us are only now becoming aware of, and its risks are more evident each day. BPA is found in many plastics and teeth sealants and was even found in baby bottles in the United States recently. BPA acts like a hormone and is especially harmful in childhood development. Avoiding plastics altogether is the wisest way to go but until then don’t heat or use plastics that have cracks or crackle easy.
So how do we keep our mitochondria healthy? The key to optimize the mitochondrial health is to improve your body’s ability to intake and use oxygen more effectively. More and better oxygen use results in stronger, more powerful mitochondria no matter how old you are. What mitochondrial superfoods will charge up your cells and help these powerhouses get churning? The key to these foods are packed with antioxidants, which are molecules that “fight off” free radicals, giving them a place to bond, instead of allowing them to bond with your mitochondria. When it comes to your diet, you can see why a healthy dose of vegetables, proteins and fats are ideal for your mitochondria’s energy-synthesizing abilities, whereas sugars break them down and can actually hinder your ability to make more of mitochondria.
Improving your lifestyle through improving your breathing (oxygenation), sleep, and exercise will help your mitochondria recharge themselves. Exercise is a key step in getting rid of damaged parts of the mitochondria. The more mitochondria functioning at their peak, the more oxygen we can use from our environment. The mitochondria also use the chemicals in food to produce ATP. That means our metabolism is increased and we can cycle through all the key functions of life more quickly. Faster removal of waste products means faster removal of dead tissues or toxic materials. Remembering our muscles are particularly packed with mitochondria, so the health of our mitochondria is extremely important or we could lose the ability to produce more energy for strength and endurance.
Along with breathing properly, stress reduction is essential for mitochondrial health. The most notorious stress hormone is cortisol. Cortisol, especially in higher levels, will actually go to catabolize, or break down, your muscles and replace them with fat. That means that higher stress levels, because they produce more cortisol, tend to reduce muscle, which as we know, is where the highest concentration of mitochondria are. Stress is literally a mitochondria killer. Look for ways to reduce your stress and move through your stress and troubles.
Over the course of our lives, we will all produce damaged and harmful mitochondria. No matter what we do, however there is a great way to purge or get rid of damaged, harmful mitochondria and it is called exercise. Interval training exercises will boost your mitochondria. This is a moderate form of exercise that involves alternating periods of medium to high-intensity training with low intensity movements. Best of all, workouts only need to last twenty minutes. Since with more oxygen available to them to use, this means that mitochondria are supercharged after exercising. It should be said to always check with your doctor before you start any type of exercise program.
Just remember that no matter where you are on this cycle you can restore your mitochondria to optimal health and produce energy your body needs for all its vital organs.
Susanne Bennett (2016). Mighty Mito: Power Up Your Mitochondria for Boundless Energy, Laser Sharp Mental Focus and a Powerful Vibrant Body, Wellness For Life Press.