What are mitochondria and what role do they play in our body?
Mitochondria are the power house of virtually every cell in the body. They generate the body’s energy in the form of ATP. They are also key regulators of cell survival and cell death. Mitochondria have the capacity to regenerate, which is known as mitochondrial biogenesis. Excessive stress, poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, toxins and a sedentary life-style can damage mitochondria and decrease mitochondrial biogenesis. Impairment of the body’s oxidative capacity results in damage to the mitochondria and dysregulation of many metabolic processes. Normal aging also slows the process of mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to many different degenerative illnesses.
How do we optimize mitochondrial production and maintenance?
The foundation for mitochondrial regeneration includes a nutritious diet that is high in antioxidants, decreased caloric intake or intermittent fasting, regular exercise and targeted nutrient supplementation. I recommend that you talk to your doctor before incorporating fasting, exercise or supplements to ensure that they are appropriate for you.
A diet high in antioxidants: Mitochondrial health is supported through the consumption of foods that are high in antioxidants and contain vitamins and trace minerals that are important in the energy pathways within the mitochondria. This can be accomplished by increasing your intake of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and herbs such as turmeric, rosemary, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, cloves and cilantro.
Eat less: Animal studies show that caloric restriction extends lifespan, and population studies suggest that this is true for humans as well. When you cut back on food consumption fewer demands are made on your mitochondria, and production of damaging free radicals declines. This results in better health and increased longevity. A similar result can be achieved through intermittent fasting. You should consult your physician before making any changes in your daily calorie intake or doing a fast as these need to be closely monitored by a medical professional to ensure safety.
Exercise more: Physical exercise tunes up existing mitochondria and activates the production of new ones. Engaging in consistent, moderate aerobic activity stimulates your muscle cells to adapt to these increased energy demands.
Resveratrol: This is a nutritional supplement that mimics the positive effects of exercise and caloric restriction. Research shows that Resveratrol activates SIRT1 genes. SIRT1 activates a cascade of biochemical reactions that support mitochondrial function and biogenesis. As a result, Resveratrol has been shown to protect against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, enhance antioxidant status, reduce inflammation and decreases age-related deterioration. ResveratroI is found in red wine or can be taken as a supplement. A standardized extract of trans-resveratrol is the most effective form.
Alpha lipoic acid: This is important in promoting mitochondrial biogenesis. It is a powerful antioxidant and additionally, it helps prevent neuropathy and improves blood sugar regulation and weight control because it increases the burning of fatty acids. It is an important cofactor in mitochondrial membranes and in mitochondrial fat burning pathways.
CoQ10: This is an antioxidant present in all cells and is particularly concentrated in the mitochondria. CoQ10 participates in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy that supports our body. It also protects the mitochondria against free-radical damage. CoQ10 is in highest concentration in heart muscle cells.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): NAC reduces mitochondrial dysfunction and reduces oxidative stress. Free radicals are byproducts of normal metabolism and outside stressors. They are unstable molecules that steal electrons from other molecules causing cell damage. Antioxidants donate electrons to decrease free radicals and promote cellular health. NAC also provides the building block (cysteine) for the production of glutathione. Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant in the body.
L-Carnitine: This is a fatty acid transporter that is directly involved in the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix where ATP is produced. L-Carnitine deficiency is associated with reduced mitochondrial function, insulin resistance and coronary artery disease. Supplementation can help reverse the age-related decline in cellular glutathione levels and improve mitochondrial activity.
L-Arginine: This is an amino acid that is the primary precursor of nitric oxide (NO). In addition to its protective effects on the mitochondria, NO is a very powerful vasodilator. It relaxes the arteries, enhances vascular health, improves blood flow, and boosts sexual function.
PQQ: This is a vitamin-like nutrient that protects mitochondria from free radical damage and produces new mitochondria. It is an antioxidant and is often included in mitochondrial support supplements.
D-Ribose: This is a sugar that plays an important role in the production of ATP. It supports heart and skeletal muscle function. It is also a component of DNA and RNA. It helps improve diminished exercise capacity by supporting mitochondrial function.
Additional mitochondrial boosting nutrients: Vitamin D, Folate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Zinc, and trace minerals.
Incorporating these diet, exercise and supplement recommendations can help boost mitochondrial biogenesis, improve cellular function, decrease free-radical production, reduce fat stores, increase lean muscle mass and slow down age-related deterioration. This creates more energy and endurance, reduces risk of disease, improves blood sugar regulation, and perhaps even increases lifespan.
Talk to your naturopathic doctor about helping you formulate an individualized plan for optimal mitochondrial support.