Mitochondria are 1.45 to 1.8 billion years old according to fossil records (1). Through the years of evolution, they ended up in most of our cells. Mitochondria are intracellular organelles and like energy factories, like batteries, they use nutrients from our food and oxygen to create energy to support life. Mitochondria appear like a separate cell, within our cells, and they even has their own set of DNA (mtDNA) which we inherit only from our mother.
Mitochondria exist in different numbers in different cell lines. The highest being the heart where 40% of each heart muscle cell by volume is made of mitochondria, the liver cell 25% and the lowest being the red blood cells which have none. Each mitochondria contains specialized membranes with a series of protein complexes that transfer ions and electrons to produce ATP, the chemical our body uses for energy. The average cell produces 10 billion ATP molecules per day! When our mitochondria are high in number and working efficiently, we have lots of energy!
Worthy to note that in addition to creating vital energy needed for fuel, the mitochondria can create signals that are sent to the cell, that signal stress or attack, which then triggers the protective nuclear DNA to protect the cell. Interesting!
The mitochondria are so important to life, when they are ill, we often end up with a chronic illness.
Here is a list of chronic illnesses associated with poor mitochondrial function. (2)
- Early aging
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Huntington’s disease
- Migraine headache
- Parkinson’s disease
Our mitochondria are very susceptible to damage from toxins in the environment, from a lack of vital nutrients, and from oxidative damage. The main ways the mitochondria are protected from oxidative stress are via manganese-dependent superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, CoQ10, vitamin E, and glutathione (produced in cytoplasm and transported across the mitochondrial membrane).
Here is a list of some of the things that we know cause mitochondrial damage:
- Toxic heavy metals
- Persistent organic pollutants
- Many prescription drugs
- Oxygen that leaks out of mitochondria while ATP is being produced
- Aging (accumulated oxidative damage to the mtDNA)
- Genomic susceptibility (especially ApoE4)
Here is a list of drugs and medications that we know damage the mitochondria in animals and cell lines (4):
- Statins (blocks CoQ10 production)
How can I measure my mitochondrial function?
There is not a direct test for this as of yet. We can use testing for oxidative damage as an indirect measure. This is reliably done via 8-OHdG urine testing, which represents how much oxidative damage one has, to their DNA.(5) Another test is called Organic Acids Test which measures the citric acid cycle and finds where the blocks are in the production of ATP. Fasting Serum Lactate and LDH if high reveals a block in ATP production.
What can I do to improve my mitochondrial function?
First is to provide the necessary nutrients in higher amounts than the RDA value. Next is to avoid environmental toxins and mold and undergo testing and detoxification specific to the toxins in your body’s urine or blood samples. You can also add nutrients that protect the body from oxidative stress.
Here is a list of the key nutrients for mitochondrial health:
- B2, riboflavin
- B3, niacin, NAD
- B5, pantothenic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- CoQ10, ubiquinol
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
Also helpful are glutathione, PQQ, EGCG from green tea, Curcumin, Quercitin, Taurine and Melatonin, as they can scavenge free radicals. Including a daily diet of fresh vegetables and high antioxidant fruits such as berries, is a must. Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber therapy helps as it drives oxygen into the cell. Near Infrared Light Therapy helps the electron chain. The best exercise is weight bearing as building more muscle, increases the number of mitochondria you have. Also High Intensity exercise makes you make more mitochondria.
One wonderful thing you can do for your mitochondrial health is NOT overeat.
When one overeats, large amounts of energy becomes available and the mitochondria become inefficient and generate more superoxide free radicals. The electron transport system always operates as fast as energy is removed from the gradient. In other words, when you are using energy by moving your body more than the amount of calories you are eating, you are in the right state for healthy mitochondria. They become more efficient in a fasting state, rather than a well-fed state. (6)
What is PQQ? (the one best supplement to help your mitochondria)
PQQ is pyrroloquinoline quinone, a plant nutrient found in highest amounts in natto, parsley, green peppers, kiwi, papaya, tofu, spinach, carrot, potato, and cabbage, You can supplement with 20mg PQQ daily to increase the number of your mitochondria in your body. PQQ also helps protect your existing mitochondria from oxidative damage. It’s a win-win.
Hope this helps!
- Kalghatgi S, Spina CS, Costello JC, et al. Bactericidal antibiotics induce mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative damage in Mammalian cells. Sci Transl Med. 2013;5(192):192ra85
- IMAGE: http://naturedocumentaries.org/18697/mitochondria-cells-powerhouse-harvardx-biovisions/