Mitochondria. Not exactly dinner table conversation right?
“Could you pass the butter and oh-by-the way; what have you done for your mitochondria today? Not really a household word yet. But perhaps though, in the near future we will be chatting with friends about how we enhance our mitochondria in the same way we talk about what workouts we are doing for our best fitness.
What exactly is at the heart of mitochondrial function and why is it so integral to our health and longevity?
How The Energy Crisis Begins
You start your day jumping in the shower, grabbing breakfast and heading off to work. On the way you may grab a cup of coffee. Or two. By mid morning most feel that they need just a little “pick me up” in the form of a sweet snack. For those whose jobs demand that they keep a feverish pace, you may even grab an energy drink or a soda. A quick snack.
We are all seeking energy from a source that will pick us up quickly right? We feel we need it. Done repetitively this becomes a habit that actually “feeds” your energy crisis. And then there are these tiny little mitochondria. Poor, hungry little mitochondria.
What Goes In IS Important
Furthermore, these little energy producing factories are feverishly trying to gather the raw materials to produce endogenous (made inside the body) energy. But you have provided no such materials. Why? Because you have given these little powerhouses nothing more than sugar, caffeine and stimulants. The result? Feelings of fatigue and feeling run down.
You just cannot seem to ever have enough energy. Now our adrenals and our nervous system are overtaxed.
What do we do? Reach for more caffeine, sugar and stimulants in a vicious cycle that leaves us feeling burned out and stressed out because true lasting energy eludes us. So what makes these little dynamos tick and how do we harness the energy they are capable of making? What slows down their feverish energy making pace or worse, what causes their burnout?
A Tale of Two Organelles
“Mitochondria and chloroplasts are two organelles that have striking similarities to bacteria cells. They have their own DNA, which is separate from the DNA found in the nucleus of our cells. And both organelles use their DNA to produce many proteins and enzymes required for their function.” This is according to http://www.learn.genetics.utah.edu./ That is of course, if they have the raw materials to do so.
It is believed that mitochondria once lived in the ocean. Separate organisms from our own human form. In the same way a bacterium can live inside a human host, mitochondria have merged with our own human cells and we came to have a symbiotic relationship with them. They somehow, over the evolutionary process became PART OF US.
In addition, if you have ever been low on energy, your mitochondria were not performing at full speed. If you have gotten sick and suffered from disease, these little powerhouses have suffered long before you ever felt sick.
When they cease to exist so do we. Mitochondria dysfuncction is at the heart of all major diseases today. Take for example MS which is a perfect example.
A Doctor Reverses Her Own Multiple Sclerosis
Dr. Terry Wahls, assistand Chief of Staff at Iowa City VA Health Care and clinical professor at the University of Iowa suffered from MS. After years of research she devised a diet that specifically addresses mitochondrial deficiency and sought to correct her own. She once suffered from MS and it’s latter stages and was confined to her wheelchair. She now rides her bike to work.
How did she make such a miraculous recovery after being afflicted by a disease that has no cure?
Dr. Wahls MINDED her mitochondria and uncovered what dictates the health of one of the most important parts of the human body aside from the brain. A diet was then devised a dietary regimen to address the deficiencies we all face. Dr. Wahls repaired her damaged mitochondria and reversed her symptoms so dramatically.
Watch the TED talk here With Dr. Terry Wahls https://youtu.be/KLjgBLwH3Wc
You Are Only as Healthy As your Mitochondria
We now know that the health of our mitochondria determines our longevity. Our “energy and life force” reside in these tiny cells. We are electrical and complicated beings. But to discover what “makes us tick”, we need to go back to the barest of basics. We know that light, water and magnetism play a huge role in communication of one cell to another. This means that adequate water intake and adequate minerals to get nutrition into cells but also to remove waste products from. cells.
Mitochondria derive their “raw materials” in the form of carbohydrate, protein and fatty acids. They will convert these into ATP via a process that is known as oxidative phosphorylation.
The mitochondria have a process whereby they take glucose and convert it into pyruvate. Pyruvate gets oxidized into CO2 via the citric acid cycle. Oxidation of fatty acids yields a substance named acetyl CO A. This pathway is at the center of oxidative metabolism. You may know it as the KREBS CYCLE (see below) Special thanks to the authors (see logo’s on their work in the pictures below Sulfur Rich Foods).
Our Native Fuel
In the womb, we derive nutrition from our mother. When we are born, we are born in a state of “ketosis” which is our native state. Mitochondria thrive on ketones as fuel. If they did not a fetus would have no chance for survival. Ketones turn on our survival genes. Let’s look at how the presence of this energy source can affect inflammation, oxidative stress and the disease process.
Ketones are powerful signaling molecules also tell our bodies that food is scarce. As a human, if we are not reproducing then we should be repairing. In a state of ketosis (just as with fasting) your body will “take out the cellular trash.” You will rid yourself of many “used up” proteins and immune cells and prepare for renewal. Let’s say you had to run from a predator.
Wouldn’t your mind would need to be sharp? Most of us would want the best and most long lasting energy our bodies could use.
Ketones provide a better and cleaner fuel for our bodies. Spending some time in nutritional ketosis is worth it’s weight in gold.
Nature Knows Best
Ketones also provide a fuel for the brain that it prefers. Our mitochondria are able to make about 30% more ATP when fueled from ketones than they can from using glucose as the primary fuel source.
Ketone bodies drive health in a very primitive way that our bodies understand. You will also see that they have major impact on the inflammatory pathways. If while being chased by a predator you ended up twising an ankle, our bodies would benefit from the anti-inflammatory nature of ketones. This could be the one thing that stands between laying down and giving up or continuing to flee.
Our ancestors may have had to go long periods of time without food and face many environmental threats. Ketones kept their minds sharp, their energy up and helped to dampen the pain of muscle aches and injury.
Eating a low carbohydrate, moderate protein and higher fat diet will help your body produce more ketones and provide plenty of raw materials to make energy.
Sulfur Rich Foods
Sulfur rich foods are a necessity for properly functioning mitochondria and can be found in eggs, onions, arugula, coconut milk (and oil). Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are also fantastic sources. Greens like mustard,radish, kale and turnip contribute sulfur as well. This is only a partial list. Perhaps you may have noticed that the foods with the most sulfur are foods that are used frequently on ketogenic diets? There is no coincidence here.
Nature intended us to get this valuable nutrient through our foods. Note in the Krebs cycle diagram below that you can see the sulfur molecule in YELLOW.
Sulfur would be at the top of the list of key compounds for mitochondrial health. An end-product in this cycle that is worth mentioning is something called NADH. NADH is scarce in those with mitochondrial disorders and autoimmnity. Benefits of NADH are on the lips of scientists as we speak. Lets look at a few practical tips to keep your mitochondria humming and yeilding boutniful energy.
The Krebs Cycle- An Energy Factory
Thanks to wiki (dinghy) for this colorful example
Oxidative Stress and Metabolism
First of all, as awesome as this process sounds , it does not come without a price. We all pay the price called oxidative stress. This manufacturing process produces waste products that we know as “free radicals.” There is no way to escape them. We already know that all disease starts with inflammation. Inflammation and oxidative stress are brutal enemies to our mitochondria. To keep them healthy, just as we do ourselves we must feed them a fuel source that they “prefer.” One that burns cleaner with less emissions. Just by breathing and digesting food we are creating oxidative stress and free radicals. So , how do we help quell this oxidative stress? None other than antioxidants!
Antioxidants: TAKE EM’ or MAKE EM’
If you watched my video WHY AN ELECTRON RICH DIET MATTERS I go into a some detail on what an antioxidant is. To keep things simple, and ANTI- oxidant is a substance that puts out the fires of oxidative stress. It typically happens at a 1:1 ratio. To be clearer, 1 oxidant to 1 anti-oxidant molecule. We know some of the common antioxidants that come from food or vitamins. To name a few, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Resveratrol and Vitamin A.
The term “exogenous” anti-oxidants is used meaning that a substance is made outside the body. Generally derived from or food or supplements. ENDOGENOUS antioxidants are what our bodies are capable of making under the right conditions.
You may recognize the names Superoxide Dismutase, Catalase and Glutathione. A good example of how to raise glutathione would be to fast for 12 or more hours at a time. This will naturally help the body produce more glutathione. Let’s take a look at a few other nutrients and co-factors that can make an impact in mitochondrial health.
From Dr. Susanne Bennett Book “Might Mito”
Finally, Dr. Bennet recommends these nutrients for optimal mitochondrial function
• Omega 3s (healthy fats) – Helps to build up your mitochondrial membranes.
- You should take a quality multi-vitamin and mineral formula – In order to ensure you are getting essential minerals, antioxidants, Vitamin C (studies have shown protection to the mitochondria against oxidative stress) Add the B complex nutrients as well.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – Co Q 10 is a cofactor/ antioxidant that has been studied for its ability to reduce mitochondrial DNA mutations that contribute to degenerative diseases and aging.
- Magnesium –Magnesium is linked to over 400 reactions in the human body and has been linked to the reduction of mitochondrial DNA mutation and about 50% of us are deficient. Provides many other health benefits such as maintaining a healthy heart and muscles, hormone metabolism and a healthy immune system.
- Carnitine – Carnitine helps transport functional lipids (fatty acids) to the mitochondria contributing to metabolic suppor and, may also help remove toxins.
- D-Ribose – A key function of Ribose is to boost muscle strength. Marked improvement in symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome in studies.
- Resveratrol – A phytonutrient found abundantly in grapes and red wine that has been shown to increase the number of mitochondria in mice.
- Amino acids – Many of us are protein deficient. There are 8 essential amino acids for optimal energy, muscle and immune health. They must be ingested. We do not make them.
Lack of exercise and poor health habits can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction. Some of the symptoms to look for are:
• Fatigue, lack of energy, feeling burnt out
• Excessive pain and soreness after work outs
• Memory loss
• Brain fog
• Mood changes
• Decreased mobility and joint stiffness
• Tingling and/or numbness
• Decreased immune function (longer healing time, infections)
Symptoms mentioned above could indicate that you may be at risk for the onset of other diseases of the mitochondria. Of course, we can surmise that accelerated aging goes hand in hand by virtue of oxidative stress. Minding our mitochondria will soon become as much of a ritual as brushing your teeth or showering and you will revel in all your newfound energy.
Now, please pass the butter!