Updated: Oct 9, 2018
If you haven't heard about Mitochondria before, you can expect to hear a lot more about them in the future. If you want optimal vitality and longevity, it’s time to learn about what your mitochondria do for you, and what you can do to boost their function.
Mitochondria are the energy factories in every single cell. Mitochondria are actually an ancient bacteria in our cells, and consist of around 10% of our total body weight. They outnumber us 2500 quadrillion to one. Mitochondria produce and recycle around 272kg of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to fuel cellular function every single day.
Aside from producing energy, mitochondria are involved in cell signalling, cell differentiation, cell growth and apoptosis or cell death. Given the significance of these vital life supporting functions, you can see how mitochondrial function is integral to optimal function, and a healthy aging process.
'The production of ATP is what makes us go – literally – free radicals are unfortunately created in the process. …if you have an ample amount of well-functioning mitochondria, they can successfully deal with the free radical load of ATP. It’s all about spreading the load of energy production among enough mitochondria to absorb the free radicals before they do any damage. The more mitochondria you have, the better.' - Mark Sisson 'Primal Endurance'
Mitochondria number and density decline with age. Before we experience visible signs of disease and aging, our mitochondria are often the first to take the hit. Many illnesses like chronic fatigue, Diabetes type 2 or Alzheimer’s have roots in mitochondrial dysfunction.
Normal mitochondrial function occurs in the presence of oxygen, and is incredibly efficient to create 36 molecules of ATP from one molecule of sugar. If the mitochondria are stressed the body switches to anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism, only 2 ATP molecules are produced from one molecule of sugar. As mitochondrial function is compromised, we produce less energy per molecule of sugar, making basic cellular function a challenge, let alone energy production for muscles.
Inflammation, viruses, bacterial dysbiosis, poor diet and toxin exposure can be very damaging to mitochondrial health. Mold toxin exposure is particularly detrimental.
It’s in our interest to build the biggest, fastest and cleanest burning engine we can by managing our mitochondria. Having mitochondrial density, essentially means we have a stronger battery pack, and better energy producing system. The more mitochondria we have, and the better they function, the more successfully we can buffer oxidative stress and healthy cellular function.
Mitochondrial density means supporting the mitochondria we have, and creating new ones via mitochondrial biogenesis means. New mitochondria are created in response to a stress, and research has shown calorie restriction (fasting), ketogenic diets and exercise as ways to increase mitochondria.
Training your Mitochondria
Both low intensity aerobic training (below the lactate threshold around 65% of heart rate max, and high intensity interval training (HIIT) promote mitochondrial density. Mitochondria respond well to a variety of abundant movement stresses, and are negatively affected by a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise increases the size and number of mitochondria, making them more efficient by increasing the number of available oxidative enzymes.
Clean Burning Ketones
Burning sugar or glucose is like burning coal power, it pollutes the environment and has a high cost. Burning fat or ketones however are more like solar power. Mitochondria burn fatty acids and ketones much more cleanly than they burn carbohydrates. When mitochondria burn glucose, more free radicals are generated, leading to accelerated aging, oxidative stress, inflammation and disease.In fact it's been shown in research from Yale university, that mitochondria in some brain neurons change their shape and function when exposed to high sugar levels.
Intermittent fasting has been linked to increased mitochondrial health and function. Intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress, produces ketones for fuel and triggers the survival response to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis.
'Ketones are the preferred fuel source for the muscles, heart, liver and brain. These vital organs do not handle carbohydrates very well; in fact they become damaged when we consume too many carbs.' – Jimmy Moore, ‘Keto Clarity’
Other Promising Tips
Other practices to increase mitochondrial health include cold thermogenesis, or cold exposure which stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis by triggering a survival mode response. Sun exposure, red LED light therapy, have also been sown to positively influence Mitcochondrial function, given their responsiveness to light communication.
Basic nutrients like CoQ10, B vitamins, Magnesium, Antioxidants like glutathione, and healthy fats are all essential for good mitochondrial health. Given that mitochondria have an inner and outer membrane made from fat, it’s vital to eat a diet rich in saturated and omega 3 fats, and avoid damaged fats like vegetable oils or trans fats which will create faulty cellular membranes subject to oxidation and leakage.
Whole body Vibration (powerplate) has been shown to increase PGC-1a which is the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis. Makes that powerplate vibration flush EVEN more amazing knowing it's helping you strengthen your mitochondria!