You’ve learned that the “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”
Although mitochondria are cellular organelles that produce energy, this phrase undervalues its many vital functions.
Mitochondrial health may be the secret key to optimal health, energy, and longevity. Keep reading to learn how you can protect and maximize your mitochondria.Mitochondrial health may be the secret key to optimal health, energy, and longevity.
Table of Contents
- Mitochondria Definition
- Mitochondria Function
- Mitochondrial Theory of Aging
- How to Maximize Mitochondria
- Mitochondria Diet
- Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell
- Caloric Restriction and Mitochondria
- Sleep and Mitochondria
- Inflammation and Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Exercise and Mitochondria
- mTor and Mitochondria
Mitochondria are cellular organelles that produce energy through aerobic respiration. Although mitochondria have many vital functions, they are best known as the power plants of the cell.
They are supremely important for your brain and your muscles as they use more energy than the rest of your organs.
Mitochondria are like cellular batteries that need to be constantly charged through respiration. They supply every cell, tissue, and organ in your body with energy. For example, your brain burns more energy than any other organ. Therefore your brain cells have a large number of mitochondria.
The health and strength of your body at any given time depends on the health of your mitochondria. If you want to increase your strength and energy potential you need to protect your mitochondria.
- Production of energy (ATP Synthesis) through aerobic respiration (1)
- Production of heat: (non-shivering thermogenesis)
- Independent units within eukaryotic cells with Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
- Plays a role in apoptosis (programmed cell death) needed to recycle useless or harmful cells
- Storage of Calcium Ions which have many vital functions including signal transduction, neurotransmitter release, and contraction of muscle cells
Mitochondrial Theory of Aging and Disease
The Mitochondrial Theory of aging proposes that accumulated oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is a primary element of aging.
Proponents of this theory argue that free radicals cause mitochondrial dysfunction, the decline, and the death of mitochondria. Simply, mitochondrial dysfunction causes chronic disease and aging.
Free radicals are a byproduct of energy production. Ironically, mitochondria are vulnerable to the oxidative damage caused by the free radicals they produce.
Unfortunately, both the quality and quantity of your mitochondria decline as you age. The symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction include loss of energy, fat storage, decreased muscle mass, and cognitive decline.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is more vulnerable to free radicals than the DNA in the nucleus. This is because antioxidants can’t penetrate the mitochondrial membrane to enter the mitochondria.
The antioxidants found in the diet do not directly protect your mitochondria. Instead, your body produces a mitochondrial protecting enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
How to Maximize Mitochondria
Superoxide dismutase (SOD), is a detoxifying enzyme within your mitochondria. It neutralizes superoxide by converting them back into oxygen. It can even neutralize free radicals on contact.
SOD can increase lifespan. For example, the reason women live (4) longer than men could be explained by their superior SOD activity.
What is the Best Mitochondria Diet
Eating a vegetarian diet can boost SOD activity naturally, thereby slowing the aging process. In a study comparing omnivores to vegetarians, the vegetarian group had (5) a 300% higher SOD enzyme activity than the omnivore control group!
Vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and live longer than non-vegetarians. The reduced risk is due to epigenetic changes or genetic expression (6). Whereby the foods that you eat can turn on and off certain genes.
Regardless of SOD’s role in mitochondrial function, turning on this gene is essential for overall health.
Ergothioneine and Mitochondria
Ergothioneine (ET) is (7) a unique sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid histidine. Interestingly, you have a protein in your body with the sole purpose of transporting ET from your food to your tissues.
ET is concentrated in areas of relatively high oxidative stress such as the eye and liver, bone marrow, and semen. Therefore, researchers propose that it is an important part of your physiology.
ET is a “cytoprotectant” or cell protector. It can enter the nucleus and protect your DNA and enter and protect your mitochondria. This makes ET a valuable and potent intro-mitochondrial antioxidant.
You can only get ET from your diet and cells starved of ET weaken. Because of its value, some researches argue that ET is worthy of being named a vitamin.
Sources of ET for Mitochondria
ET is made by tiny microbes in the soil and is absorbed through the root systems of plants.
Mushrooms are the best source with (8) over 40 times more ET than any other food! Beans are a distant second followed by organ meats. Consider adding mushrooms and beans to your diet as they have many other vital nutrients. Although organ meats have some ET, they have other risk factors.
Caution: You should cook beans and mushrooms and not all mushrooms are safe to eat.
Beet Juice and Nitrates For Mitochondria
Nitrates, found in vegetables, are metabolized (9) and converted to nitrite and then to bioactive nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, meaning it opens blood vessels and increases blood circulation. Thereby the consumption of nitrates may reduce blood pressure and improve athletic performance. Drinking beet juice can significantly improve athletic performance by enhancing the energy production of the mitochondria.
A randomized, double-blind, crossover, placebo-control study tested the effects of beet juice versus de-nitrated beet juice. The study found a strikingly significant improvement (10) in competitive cycling times after drinking a half-liter of beetroot juice. In fact, all 9 of the beetroot supplement group achieved better times.
The researchers took muscle biopsies from subjects before and after nitrate supplementation. They found (11) that you can improve mitochondrial efficiency, human energy production, through your diet.
The improved mitochondrial function may come from increased oxygen efficiency during exercise.
Consider adding nitrate-rich foods like beets and arugula.
Further Reading: How To Lower Blood Pressure
Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell
Your body uses oxygen to produce (12) ATP, the body’s energy currency. Every time you flex a muscle or even think, your body uses up ATP. Thereby you must replenish ATP by breathing in more oxygen.
ATP synthase is a microscopic enzyme deep within the cell that produces ATP. This microscopic enzyme is similar to a rotary mechanical motor.
Oxygen generates a flow of protons, like the flow of a water wheel, that causes the enzyme to turn and make ATP. Like any motor, this process is inefficient. Gears can slip and protons can leak out the edges.
Nitric Oxide and Mitochondria Energy Production
Beets are one of the most abundant sources of dietary nitrates. Your stomach absorbs (13) dietary nitrates, actively concentrates them, and sends them back to your mouth through your salivary glands.
Your tongue has special bacteria that convert nitrates into nitrites. Then, these nitrites are re-swallowed and re-absorbed. Lastly, nitrites are sent to your cells where they are converted into nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide improves the efficiency of the proton pump by reducing slippage, plugging holes, or even taking the place of oxygen.
Thereby beets, rich in nitrates, can reduce oxygen cost, increase oxygen efficiency, and improve athletic performance.
Oral Bacteria and Nitrates
The natural flora on your tongue bioactivates (14) nitrate by breaking it down into more reactive nitrite.
A study of seven healthy volunteers found that using an antibacterial mouthwash prevented nitrate from being converted to nitrite in the saliva and slowed the rise in plasma nitrite.
Therefore, nitrates bioactivation into plasma nitrites greatly depends on nitrate conversion by the natural tongue flora.
Antibacterial mouthwash can negate the NO-dependent biological benefits of dietary nitrate.
A Mitochondrial Safe Mouthwash
Green tea is a natural alternative to antibacterial mouthwash.
Researchers found (15) that green tea was more effective than chlorhexidine at reducing plaque. Using green tea as a mouthwash may be safer, cheaper, and better than what you can buy in the store.
Amla berry powder is another mitochondrial protective alternative.
Research has shown that not only does amla berry kill off cavity-causing bacteria, it can also suppress (16) the bacteria’s plaque-forming abilities. Additionally, amla berries have over 200 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries!
Helpful tip: replace your mouthwash with amla berry powder or green tea powder mixed in water.
Further Reading: 7 Teeth Whitening Remedies For Less Than 10 Dollars
Sulforaphane and Mitochondria
Sulforaphane can double (17) the mass of mitochondria in human cells growing in a Petrie dish. Sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant that is found in abundance in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Sulforaphane is most potent in broccoli sprouts that are cheap and easy to grow.
Caloric Restriction and Mitochondria
Caloric restriction can slow down aging and extend lifespan. Whereby, when food is plentiful, your cells divide. But when food is scarce, your body goes into conservation mode, slows down cell division, and starts (18) the process of autophagy.
Autophagy occurs when your body decides that there isn’t enough food and it starts searching your cells for anything unnecessary. Your body recycles broken or useless cells into new or improved cells.
While you are fasting, mitochondria are recycled into healthy and productive mitochondria.
Sleep and Mitochondrial Health
Sleep disorders can cause mitochondrial dysfunction. Even undiagnosed sleep disorders, like not getting quality sleep every night, can weaken (19) your mitochondria.
Your body, especially your brain, does most of its cleansing when you sleep. Your brain uses more energy than any other organ in your body, thereby creating a ton of waste.
It cleanses itself through the glymphatic system. Channels between neurons expand while brain cells shrink to allow cerebrospinal fluid to flush out dead cells, toxins, wastes, and byproducts. This process is 10 times more effective when you are asleep than when you are awake.
Insufficient waste removal from a lack of quality sleep leads to inefficient mitochondria. Thereby reducing your health and energy potential and aging you faster.
Inflammation and Mitochondria Dysfunction
Mitochondrial dysfunction can be (20) both a cause and an effect of inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s healing process in response to stress.
Mitochondrial dysfunction prompts your body to make metabolic adaptions that are protective in the short-term. Nevertheless, prolonged adaptations can have negative consequences. Consequently, chronic inflammation is a factor in many diseases and speeds up the aging process.
Ways to reduce Inflammation include:
- Intermittent fasting is a form of stress that sends your body into autophagy thereby recycling damaged cells into new ones. Less damage means less inflammation.
- Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation while omega-6 fats can cause inflammation. Ground flax seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of short-chain (ALA). But algae is the safest and most effective source of long-chain (DHA and EPA) omega-3s. Even fish get their omega-3s from algae,
- Avoid fish as even wild fish are loaded with toxic heavy metals that cause inflammation.
- Reduce Your toxic load: eliminate or limit environmental toxins and eat healthy organic food in their natural form. And add anti-oxidant rich foods to every meal to handle the oxidation of consuming and burning energy.
- Nitrates: nitrates convert into nitric oxide which can improve your oxygen efficiency and reduce free radical byproducts.
Exercise and mitochondria
When you exercise, you are asking your mitochondria to produce more energy. Your body responds by making more mitochondria to adapt to your needs.
One study found that 12 weeks on an exercise program can significantly improve (21) mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle cells.
Mitochondria and mTOR
mTor is an enzyme that controls the rate at which you age. When mTOR activity is (22) inhibited, Mitochondria lengthen. When TOR is activated, mitochondria become fragmented. Progressive fragmentation of mitochondria is a possible risk factor for certain cancers.
Learn more about how to slow down mTOR, the engine of aging, in How Can You Slow Down Aging? mTOR
Limits to the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging
Evidence supporting the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging is mostly correlative, thus the theory remains unproven.
For example, research has found that animals that produce (23) fewer free radicals have less oxidative damage in their tissues. Although this association appears to be promising it raises more questions.
Paradoxically, the longest-living rodent produces high levels of free radicals and sustains exceptionally high oxidative damage levels in its proteins, lipids, and DNA.
The Mitochondrial Theory of Aging is built on the premise that free radicals damage mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Therefore, damage to mtDNA should have a negative correlation with the maximum lifespan. In contrast with the mitochondrial theory, high levels of oxidative damage in mtDNA do not shorten the lifespan in mice.
Caloric restriction is the only natural treatment that is proven to increase mean and maximum lifespan in mammals. In fact, caloric restricted animals produce far less mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mtROS), which supports the mitochondrial theory.
Nonetheless, caloric restriction has other benefits including decreasing insulin signaling. Therefore, the increase in longevity cannot be attributed entirely to mitochondrial protection.
The evidence supporting the mitochondrial theory of aging is somewhat contradictory and still inconclusive. Therefore, the mitochondrial theory remains just a theory.
Conclusion: Thoughts on Mitochondria
- Improving mitochondrial function appears to increase energy production and promote health.
- The factors that promote mitochondrial health independently promote overall health.
- There are limits to animal trials, we need more evidence from human studies.
- Nevertheless, I am not going to wait for scientific proof before I make healthy changes.
- If you give your body a goal to focus on, it will do all that it can to help you. Paradoxically, If you want more energy, you need to use up what you have.
- Your body follows your lead. Whatever changes you make, good or bad, it will try to adapt.
- If you want to learn more, do your own research, comment, or ask a question.
- What about mitochondria interests you?
Mitochondria Action Plan
- Avoid toxins in the environment
- Minimize or cut animal products from your diet
- Eat plenty of naturally antioxidant-rich foods with every meal
- Eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3s and reduce omega-6.
- Avoid free radical promoting substances like food preservatives, artificial substances, alcohol, and tobacco
- Use green tea or amla berry powder as a natural and effective mouthwash
- If you want more energy, get moving
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