by Health By Principle

Mitochondria and Me


By Rachel Welch 


Ever heard the joke about what recent generations have really learned from their years of schooling? It goes something like this: graduates may not know how to file taxes, budget for a house, or craft the perfect cover letter, but they all have one unshakable fact etched into their minds – "The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell." It's the kind of knowledge that sticks, despite the abyss of forgotten lessons. After all, we're walking, talking assemblies of cells, so it's only fitting that we give some spotlight to the tiny power plants inside us. But here's the kicker: mitochondria aren't just fascinating; they're vital for our health, brainpower, and even longevity. Intrigued? Let's dive deep into the incredible world of mitochondria and discover their hidden superpowers. 


Mitochondria 101: A Science Class Flashback 


Mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell because they play a critical role in cellular energy production and influence various aspects of human health. These tiny, double-membraned organelles are essential for the generation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of energy for cellular activities. The intricate relationship between mitochondria and health extends beyond basic cellular functions, contributing significantly to overall well-being. Mitochondria possess their own genetic material, separate from the cell's nucleus, and are believed to have originated from ancient symbiotic bacteria. This unique evolutionary history underscores their fundamental role in cellular metabolism. As cellular energy factories, mitochondria participate in oxidative phosphorylation, a process that involves the transfer of electrons through a series of protein complexes, ultimately leading to the production of ATP. This energy currency fuels diverse cellular processes, ranging from muscle contraction to the synthesis of essential molecules. 


The impact of mitochondria on an individual's health is multifaceted. Dysfunctional mitochondria have been implicated in various diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders, metabolic diseases, and aging-related conditions. Mitochondrial dysfunction can compromise the efficiency of energy production, leading to cellular stress and dysfunction. Such disturbances are linked to conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, where neurons, heavily reliant on energy, are particularly vulnerable. Beyond neurological disorders, mitochondria play a crucial role in metabolic health. Impaired mitochondrial function has been associated with insulin resistance and obesity, contributing to the development of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, mitochondrial dysfunction is a hallmark of various rare genetic disorders known as mitochondrial diseases, which can affect multiple organ systems. 


Understanding the intricate interplay between mitochondrial function and health is a burgeoning area of research. Scientists are exploring ways to enhance mitochondrial function as a potential therapeutic strategy for various diseases. Lifestyle factors, including regular exercise and a balanced diet rich in antioxidants, have been shown to positively impact mitochondrial health. Mitochondria stand at the crossroads of cellular vitality and human health. Their pivotal role in energy production and influence on diverse physiological processes makes them a fascinating subject of study with profound implications for our understanding of health and disease. 


Recent Discussions 


One doctor, in particular, has made an effort to share the lesser-known facts about mitochondria and their meaningful impact on human health. Doctor Kharazzian has consulted on several podcasts and interviews to discuss his findings related to mitochondrial health. In a recent interview, Dr. Kharrazian shed light on the complex biochemical mechanisms of diseases and the paramount importance of lifestyle and medicine in treating chronic illnesses. The conversation with one podcast host dove into the intricacies of medical paradigms, emphasizing the need to understand abnormal biochemistry while highlighting the central role of lifestyle factors in achieving optimal health. 


Dr. Kharrazian acknowledged the vast complexity of disease processes, with constant discoveries revealing new layers of abnormal biochemistry associated with various conditions. He explained that the conventional approach often involves studying these complexities to find interventions, such as drugs or nutraceuticals, that interrupt pathological processes. However, Dr. Kharrazian instead emphasizes lifestyle medicine as a fundamental aspect of healing. He emphasizes the importance of factors like hormesis*, sleep, and lifestyle changes that positively impact overall health. Other key elements include movement, exposure to sunlight (we all love our vitamin D), social interactions, laughter, a sense of self-worth, real food, and quality sleep. These, according to Dr. Kharrazian, form the foundation of a healthy lifestyle and contribute significantly to preventing the derailment of physiological processes.  

 * What is Hormesis? 
Hormesis is like a workout for your body, but for different things, not just exercise. It's the idea that a little bit of stress or something challenging can actually be good for you in the long run. 
Think of it like this: When you lift weights, your muscles get a bit stressed and may even feel sore afterward. But over time, your muscles become stronger and bigger because they adapt to this stress. The same principle applies to your body in other ways. 
For example, when you eat a small amount of something that's usually not great for you (like a piece of dark chocolate or a glass of red wine), it can actually have some health benefits. That's because your body responds to this mild stress by building up its defenses and becoming more resilient. 
So, in simple terms, hormesis is about the idea that a little bit of stress or challenge can make your body stronger and healthier over time. It's like giving your body a gentle push to help it become better at handling different situations. 



Mitochondrial Malfunction 


So, what happens when our mitochondria don’t quite accomplish what they are supposed to? Fortunately, the Cincinnati Health Institute shared a helpful overview that outlines some of the possible effects of malfunctioning or underperforming mitochondria.  


  • 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. 

Every item on this list is an undesirable experience. So, how do we care for our mitochondria to keep them the healthiest they can be? 


Meaningful Mitochondrial Care 


As is the case with many health-related pursuits, a solid starting point is a healthy diet. Research suggests that a “mitochondria-friendly diet” includes healthy, whole foods without too many processed and chemical-based consumables. While a “healthy grocery list” can be easily found online, researchers suggest that for mitochondrial care, we need to take it a step further by also paying attention to the preparation of healthy foods.  


Sally Fallon Morell writes about just this in her book Nourishing Traditions and dives into thorough and detailed instructions on how to prepare whole and healthy foods safely and in a way that preserves their nutrients. Another food-related item to consider is AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). AMPK is an enzyme in the liver, brain, and bones that contributes to metabolic functions. Recent research suggests that AMPK is relevant for mitochondrial health in that activation of the enzymes may help to reduce the risk of heart issues, stroke, weight gain, cancers, and more.  


Other research suggests that practices like intermittent fasting may help with maintaining the good health of your mitochondria. This theory is that the practice of intermittent fasting allows the mitochondria to increase and reset, as it allows them to change what they consume. For instance, instead of consuming glucose and sugars, they consume ketones. Finally, as we so often do, it is time to revisit the benefits of movement and exercise. The practice of exercising requires mitochondria to multiply to supply the excess energy that the body needs. By prompting mitochondria to multiply, they increase in both size and number, which means good things for the body!  


Achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves mindful practices that extend beyond superficial well-being. Taking care of your mitochondria, the powerhouse of your cells, is crucial for overall health and vitality. Here are key tips to foster a healthy lifestyle and care for your mitochondria: 


  1. Regular Exercise: Engage in a mix of aerobic and resistance exercises. Aerobic activities, like brisk walking or jogging, enhance mitochondrial function and increase energy production. Meanwhile, resistance training helps build muscle, contributing to overall metabolic health.


  1. Balanced DietPrioritize a nutrient-dense, balanced diet rich in whole foods. Include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Mitochondria thrive on nutrients like coenzyme Q10, found in fish and nuts, and antioxidants from berries and leafy greens.


  1. Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating to enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. Chew your food thoroughly and savor each bite. Avoid processed foods and excessive sugar, as they can contribute to oxidative stress, negatively impacting mitochondrial health. 


  1. Intermittent Fasting: Consider incorporating intermittent fasting into your routine. Fasting periods can stimulate mitochondrial adaptation and improve their efficiency. Consult with a healthcare professional before adopting any fasting regimen. 


  1. Adequate Hydration: Stay well-hydrated to support cellular processes, including mitochondrial function. Water is essential for nutrient transport and waste elimination. Limit the intake of sugary beverages and opt for water, herbal teas, or infused water for added flavor. 


  1. Quality Sleep: Prioritize sufficient and quality sleep for optimal mitochondrial health. Aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a comfortable sleep environment, and avoid stimulants close to bedtime. 


  1. Stress Management: Chronic stress can negatively impact mitochondrial function. Incorporate stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises into your routine. These practices promote relaxation and resilience against the damaging effects of stress. They also help your brain in a multitude of ways! 


  1. Sunlight Exposure: Spend time outdoors to receive natural sunlight. Sunlight is a vital source of vitamin D, which plays a role in mitochondrial function and many other health processes. Aim for safe sun exposure while protecting your skin with sunscreen when necessary. 


  1. Social Connections: Foster meaningful social connections and engage in positive social interactions. Social well-being contributes to mental health, reducing stress and supporting overall physiological balance. We know that social interaction is crucial during all phases of life, and even more so as we age. Remember to prioritize high-quality connections that bring positivity and joy into your life.  


  1. Avoid Toxins: Minimize exposure to environmental toxins by choosing organic produce, using natural cleaning products, and being mindful of potential pollutants in your surroundings. This helps reduce the burden on your mitochondria. 


Additionally, nutrition can always be supplemented! Health by Principle provides wholesome, carefully crafted supplements to suit your needs and assist with migraine prevention and maintenance. As always, Health by Principle is here to provide options that may make your life a little bit healthier, and that may make a healthy, balanced diet a bit more manageable. By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you not only promote overall health but also provide optimal conditions for your mitochondria to thrive, contributing to sustained energy levels and well-being.  

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