The Impact of Mitochondria on Overall Health

Sep 29th 2023

As functional medicine establishes its foothold on overall health and patients seek a better understanding of a holistic healthcare approach, more and more research points to mitochondrial health and dysfunction as the root cause of many health conditions. By supporting these subcellular dynamos, you replenish immune defenses, metabolism, detox pathways, and healthy aging.

What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are tiny organelles located inside every cell in our body, and they produce about 90% of the body's energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When the nutrients from food molecules are broken down, ATP collects the energy from that process and releases it for the body to use. This provides energy to every cell in the body and is crucial to life itself– by powering the body, mitochondria and ATP production play a massive role in overall health.

How do mitochondria affect health and fitness?

Your health is directly influenced by how many mitochondria you have and how well they function. Higher amounts of mitochondria in cells are associated with better health, immunity, energy, focus, and metabolism because more ATP is present to power your body and keep you moving.

What is mitochondrial dysfunction?

Mitochondrial dysfunction is simply when the mitochondria fail to function correctly. Mitochondria will fail to produce enough energy for the body, leading to problems like muscle weakness, migraines, fatigue, strokes, heart issues, liver failure, and more.

What causes mitochondrial dysfunction?

Genetic variations, thyroid problems, xenobiotics, aging, poor diet, medications, and infections can cause mitochondrial dysfunction.

  • Genetic variations: Different genetic variations can cause the body to be unable to produce enough energy.
    • For instance, the MTHFR SNP can cause mitochondrial impairment due to methylation dysfunction and a higher toxic load.
  • Thyroid dysfunction: Your thyroid produces hormones that help with metabolism, converting food into energy for your body. Thyroid dysfunction may lead to issues with the production of these hormones, impacting the amount of energy your body can produce.
  • Xenobiotics: Things like insecticides, pesticides, and other foreign chemicals are generally not found or produced inside the body and can impact cellular functions.
  • Aging: As we age, our bodies begin to slow down at cellular levels; things like collagen, tissue density, and energy production will drop as we grow older
  • Poor diet: Mitochondria break down food molecules to produce energy for the body, but poor diets may not provide enough nutrients for our ATP to use in this process.
  • Medications: Mitochondria started as bacteria before evolving to how they are now, potentially making them sensitive to antimicrobial medications that can impact their functionality.
  • Infections and chronic illnesses: Infections and chronic illnesses can attack your cellular health and functions, impacting your overall health in numerous ways; mitochondrial function within these cells may also be affected.

What can help mitochondrial dysfunction?

Maintaining healthy mitochondria is crucial for overall well-being as they produce energy within cells. Healthy mitochondria help to increase energy levels, improve metabolism, and lower inflammation and disease risk. Here are some tips on how to enhance your mitochondrial health:

1. Regular Exercise: Regular and consistent exercise is one of the best ways to improve mitochondrial function. Both aerobic and resistance training can stimulate the growth and efficiency of mitochondria.

2. Balanced Diet: A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, healthy fats, and minerals can support mitochondria. Foods such as oily fish, avocados, kale, cabbage, nuts, and high-quality proteins provide essential nutrients that support mitochondrial function.

3. Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting may help improve mitochondrial health by stimulating autophagy (cellular cleaning) and enhancing mitochondrial efficiency.

4. Caloric Restriction: Reducing calorie intake, known as caloric restriction, could improve mitochondrial function and extend lifespan by reducing oxidative stress.

5. Mitochondrial Supplements: Some supplements such as resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acids, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), L-carnitine, and alpha-lipoic acid are great for mitochondrial health.

6. Stress Management: Chronic stress can damage mitochondria, so practicing stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and meditation is essential.