- Mitochondria, your microscopic energy makers, can make or break your health and wellbeing, so it’s important to support them when optimizing your health.
- Diet and nutrition, sleep habits, getting daily movement, and making sure your detoxification pathways are open and flowing are all essential to healthy mitochondria.
- Supplements for mitochondrial support include CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, phospholipids, and pure omega-6 and omega-3 fats.
Are you noticing a drag on your daily energy, feeling sluggish and fatigued? Whatever the external cause may be, it's your mitochondria that are ultimately responsible for your mental and physical energy at the cellular level. These microscopic bean-shaped organelles number in the thousands in each cell of your body, and whether they function well or poorly depends heavily on your diet and lifestyle.
In this article, we’ll cover what mitochondria do, the causes behind mitochondrial dysfunction, and how you can support healthy mitochondria.
Table of Contents:
- What Are Mitochondria?
- Causes of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- How to Improve Mitochondrial Health
- Best Mitochondrial Support Supplements
- Support Your Health From Inside the Cell
What Are Mitochondria?
Mitochondria are the energy centers of the cell. They supply cellular energy through the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphosphate), which are essentially the batteries that power our cellular functions.
Other duties our mitochondria carry out include:
- Regulating intracellular calcium ions (Ca2+)
- Producing and scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS)
- Regulating apoptosis, or cell death
As our main energy producers, we can think of mitochondria as having a domino effect on the rest of our cellular operations. We should have between 1,000-2,000 mitochondria per cell to make the energy we need. If we don’t have enough mitochondria or they don’t function well, it kicks off a chain reaction that leads to the whole cell, lowering its capacity to function. Eventually, this manifests in symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, and eventually, systemic illness.
One of the most fascinating facts about mitochondria is that they actually have their own genetic code, separate from our cellular DNA. This “mtDNA” is passed down exclusively from mother to child, so certain genetic mutations within the mitochondria can be traced down through the maternal line. However, these mutations are relatively rare. If there is an issue with our mitochondria that results in low energy production (which is probably far more common than we realize), the cause is typically environmental rather than genetic.
Causes of Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Mitochondrial dysfunction is becoming a term used more and more commonly in functional and integrative medicine. It’s less of a diagnosis on its own than a comorbidity that comes with issues like autoimmune disease, chronic infections like Lyme disease, and mycotoxin illness, for example. It’s exactly what it sounds like – the mitochondria become dysfunctional, resulting in a massive loss of energy and therefore a loss in healing ability, immunity, brain function, and so on.
So what causes mitochondrial dysfunction? Unfortunately, a number of things:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Toxin accumulation (heavy metals, air pollutants, glyphosate, etc.)
- Oxidative damage/free radical production
Plus, because the body always tries to be as efficient as possible, we only produce the number of mitochondria we need to support the amount of energy we require. So, if you spend most of your days sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day, your mitochondria production will reflect that in lower numbers. Conversely, if you exercise regularly and move frequently throughout the day, mitochondria production will adjust to compensate for the additional energy required.
So you can see how, in some cases, increasing your energy is really a matter of increasing your activity. But we know that sometimes that is much easier said than done (especially for our friends with chronic illness), depending on your toxic burden and nutrition status.
How to Improve Mitochondrial Health
Supporting mitochondrial health comes down to the choices you make every day for your health and well-being. Diet and nutrition, sleep, exercise/movement, and detoxification are the main pillars for both increasing your army of mitochondria and promoting mitochondrial function.
Diet & Nutrition
Your nutrition is always one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factors in maintaining your health. For mitochondria, healthy fat intake is especially important to maintain the mitochondrial membrane, which is primarily composed of the phospholipids phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and cardiolipin. PE has two fatty acid tails, and cardiolipin has four – requiring even more of the essential fatty acids we find in food sources like raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and fatty fish.
With healthy fats, the most important thing to be aware of is that they aren’t oxidized, which makes healthy oils toxic to our bodies. This toxicity is ubiquitous in industrial seed oils like canola, cottonseed, and even sunflower oil used in processed foods and sold as cooking oil. Make no mistake, these superheated, rancid oils are inflammatory and destructive to your mitochondria.
Contrary to the oils you’ll find in the supermarket, BodyBio Balance Oil provides the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and is cold-pressed to ensure it remains unoxidized. In this form, Balance Oil provides the essential fatty acids your mitochondria need to maintain and increase energy production.
Magnesium is also critical for our mitochondria to produce energy. Magnesium gets depleted rapidly when we are exposed to oxidative stress which we are all chronically exposed to. We can find this nutrient abundant in dark leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, seafood and organic chocolate (!), but for some people it is often necessary to supplement with magnesium to ensure we are getting adequate amounts. B vitamins, carnitine, vitamin C, and selenium are also very supportive to our mitochondria. We can acquire these nutrients from foods like seeds, seeds, citrus fruits, fish, and meat. Always remember to choose organically grown food whenever possible.
Build Better Sleep Habits
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night is critical to help our brains detoxify and take out the metabolic trash from daily cellular operation. In particular, it detoxifies beta-Amyloid, the main component of Alzheimer’s plaques, which can actually be helpful to the brain in small amounts.
But when we don’t get enough sleep and the body is not able to dispose of beta-Amyloid properly, one of the consequences is that it damages mitochondria in the brain. This may then lead to losses in learning and memory, and eventually dementia.
Making sure you use low and soft lighting at night, avoiding stressful activities before bed (checking email, watching the news, stressful TV shows or movies), preparing for bed with a consistent bedtime routine (brushing teeth, stretching, reading a book, etc.), and trying to go to bed at the same time each night can train your body to consistently fall asleep and get better quality sleep.
Research on mitochondria in skeletal muscle shows that exercise can produce an increase in mitochondria by up to 40 percent. The key with exercise is to recognize when it’s supportive, and when it’s acting as just another stressor on the body. Doing difficult workouts every day without rest in between is just as damaging to your mitochondria as any other toxin. But done properly and with plenty of rest, strengthening your muscles with weight training can help increase mitochondria production and efficiency over time.
If that is too strenuous to start with, functional movement like walking, dancing, and yoga can provide similar benefits on a lower scale.
Lastly, it’s important to reduce your toxic exposure as much as possible. Clear your home of toxic cleaning products, reevaluate your makeup and skincare products, and invest in a good air purifier for your living space and bedrooms. It’s impossible to avoid all toxins, but these are good first steps to reducing your toxic load.
Supporting your liver and gut health is also key for detoxifying from the inside out. You can read more about how the body detoxifies itself in our post here.
Best Mitochondrial Support Supplements
Many integrative physicians and clinical researchers are beginning to see a connection between illnesses like long ‘vid and mitochondrial health. Research speculates that the virus can hijack mitochondria production during the initial illness. Then, long-term effects manifest in the central nervous system, brain, and immune system. Physicians are particularly concerned with neuroinflammation, which results in brain fog, chronic fatigue, and other symptoms.
When dealing with these chronic issues post-virus, whether it’s ‘vid, its cousin and well-known mitochondria hijacker Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), or other infections like Lyme, the mitochondria could use some extra support. This is where mitochondria supplements come in.
Some mitochondrial health supplements include:
- Vitamin B complex
- Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+)
If you’re dealing with lingering symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction post-illness, work with a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner to find mitochondria support that works for you.
Support Your Health From Inside the Cell