Importance of Mitochondrial Health

Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. One may think about them as little batteries that serve as an energy factory for your body to power a variety of bodily functions. They are responsible for producing about 90 percent of cellular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondrial health has its importance.

Cellular respiration and energy production are the two major roles of mitochondria. Basically, your mitochondria are the reason you need to breathe and eat. Besides these two major functions, your mitochondria are critical for cell growth and multiplication, cell death of old, injured, and damaged cells, calcium homeostasis, nerve function, heat production, organ metabolism, and other functions

If your mitochondria function is compromised, it won’t be able to supply your body with energy and will impact important bodily functions.

Mitochondrial disease is a health condition that happens when the mitochondria, which are required for energy production within the cell, malfunction. As a result, the mitochondria are unable to produce enough energy. They are not able to fully burn food and oxygen for energy production and optimal cellular function .

There are various types of mitochondrial diseases out there, and each individual is affected differently depending on what combination of mitochondria is not working properly and how many cells are affected.

Mitochondrial Disease :

Some of the most common mitochondrial diseases include :

Mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes (MELAS) syndrome

Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON)

Leigh syndrome

Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS)

Myoclonic epilepsy and ragged-red fiber disease (MERRF)

Mitochondrial disease can impact various parts of the body. The most common areas affected include the ones that need the most energy to function, including the brain, heart, liver, and kidney.

Mitochondrial disease is often progressive. Mitochondrial disease is genetic, which one may inherit from a family member in an autosomal dominant or autosomal recessive pattern, which means that if he/she inherit the mutated gene from one or both biological parents, he/she will develop mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondrial disease (Mito) is a debilitating genetic disorder that robs the body’s cells of vital energy that can eventually cause organ disfunction and potentially death.

In rare cases, this genetic mutation may occur without a family history. Some mitochondrial diseases also have mitochondrial inheritance, which happens when the mitochondria contain their own DNA, and there is a mutation within this mitochondrial DNA inherited from the mother. There is currently no cure for mitochondrial disease.

Symptoms of Mitochondrial Disease:

Symptoms of mitochondrial disease may vary based on the type of mitochondrial disease or the location of the cells that are affected. Symptoms may present at birth or a young age or arise at any point later in life. They may affect one or multiple organs.

Symptoms may include- Poor growth

Developmental delays or problems with cognitive development

Loss of balance, coordination, or other motor functions

Muscle pain or muscle weakness

Poor muscle tone

Hearing loss or vision problems

Constipation or diarrhea

Acid reflux or issues with swallowing

Vomiting

Seizures

Fainting

Migraines

Respiratory issues

Cardiovascular issues

Liver or kidney problems

Neurological symptoms

Complications of Mitochondrial Disease:

Complications of mitochondrial disease may include:

Increased risk of infection

Strokes

Diabetes

Liver failure

Kidney disease

Pancreatic failure

Gastrointestinal issues

Parathyroid failure

Cardiomyopathy

Dementia

Drooping eyelid (ptosis)

Mitochondrial Dysfunction:

Genetic mitochondrial disease only affects about 1 in 5,000 people . However, one may develop mitochondrial issues without having genetic mitochondrial disease.

One may develop mitochondrial dysfunction when  mitochondria don’t work as well as they should as a result of another disease or condition, or even dietary or lifestyle factors.

Conditions that may result in secondary mitochondrial dysfunction may include:

Type 1 diabetes

Alzheimer’s disease

Muscular dystrophy

Multiple sclerosis

Cancer

Factors that may impact your mitochondrial health may include:

Environmental toxin exposure

Chronic infections

Chronic stress

An inflammatory diet

Other poor lifestyle choices

Mitochondrial dysfunction may affect multiple organs across your body and result in chronic symptoms from mild to severe, depending on the level and location of the dysfunction. Symptoms may be similar to symptoms of mitochondrial disease.

Tips To Improve  Mitochondrial Health

Follow a Nutrient-Dense Diet

One of the best ways to support  mitochondrial health is an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory, and nutrient-dense diet. Avoid refined sugar, highly processed grains, refined oil, highly processed foods, and junk food. These inflammatory foods only fuel inflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Instead, follow an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, whole foods diet. Eat plenty of greens, vegetables, herbs, fruits, nuts, seeds, and pasture-raised animal protein .

Try Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is an eating strategy that reserves part of the day for fasting and another part for eating. For example, you may stop eating at 6 pm after dinner and not eat until 10 am the next day. You consume your meals between 10 am and 6 pm during a shorter eating window.

Intermittent fasting may help improve autophagy. Autophagy is your body’s renewal process that reuses old and damaged cells and cellular particles, creating room for new ones. Mitochondrial autophagy or mitophagy allows the mitochondria to get rid of damaged particles and unwanted debris that causes problems. Moreover, autophagy may also help to decrease oxidative stress by-products, improve ATP production, improve overall mitochondrial function, and increase longevity

In addition to diet, one may benefit from nutritional support through mitochondria- supporting supplementation. One may benefit from supplementing vitamin omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), coenzyme Q10, a-lipoic acid, B vitamins, carnitine, and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) .

Remember to always consult your physician before taking any supplements.

Reduce Toxin Exposure:

Environmental toxins can seriously impact your body. They may increase chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, which then may compromise your mitochondria function . Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible. Choose organic, natural, and homemade products over chemical-filled conventional options.

Toxic metals like lead and mercury are particularly hard on mitochondrial function.  Familiarise yourself with dietary and other sources of exposure to these metals, and be sure to consult with a knowledgeable physician regarding the methods used to remove accumulated loads of toxic metals from your body.

Address any mold issues in your home. Choose a high-quality HEPA air filtration system for better indoor air. Drink purified water. Reduce the use of plastics and synthetic clothing.  Smokers should stop smoking. Avoid second hand smoke as much as possible, as cigarette smoking can compromise mitochondrial structure and function.

Move your body regularly:

Moving your body may help to improve mitochondria and overall health. According to a 2017 study published in Cell Metabolism, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may maximize absolute mitochondrial respiration by 49 to 69% . Move your body regularly and exercise 20 to 30 minutes at least 5 times a week, combining cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.

According to a 2018 article published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, even short sleep deprivation may impact mitochondrial health . Poor sleep may also increase chronic inflammation, fatigue, and chronic health issues. Therefore aim for 7 to 9 hours of restorative sleep at night. Avoid electronics, stress, heavy foods, sugar, and alcohol close to bedtime, and help your body wind down with calming activities, such as taking a bath, reading, journaling, crossword puzzles, and listening to music.

According to a 2018 research published in Psychosomatic Medicine, psychological stress and chronic stress may also compromise your mitochondrial function . Chronic stress may also impact your sleep, increase inflammation, and worsen chronic symptoms.

Practice meditation, mindfulness, breathwork, gratitude, nature walks, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or yoga to your life to reduce stress and the impact of stress on your body.

According to a 2018 research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vitamin D is essential for mitochondrial function and overall health . Spending time in the sun is one of the best ways to get your vitamin D. However, this is not always possible in certain months of the year, especially when living in colder areas with a long winter our indoor lifestyle may also interfere with our ability to get enough sun, not to mention worries about UV rays.

Vitamin D-rich foods, such as cod liver oil, beef liver, salmon, and other fatty fish, may improve your vitamin D levels too. However, meeting your vitamin D needs through food alone can be difficult, if not impossible. In addition to sunshine and food,  Taking a daily vitamin D supplement.

Red light therapy (RLT) is a low-level laser therapy that uses photomodulation. The low wavelength red lights of red light therapy penetrate deep into your skin, helping to reduce inflammation, supporting autophagy, cellular repair, and regeneration, and cellular signaling . One may benefit from a daily red light therapy session for mitochondrial health.

Cold and heat exposure may both benefit  mitochondrial health. Cold exposure therapy will result in generating extra heat. This causes shivering, which activates the mitochondria and uses ATP energy for muscle contractions. It also activates the brown adipose tissue (BAT) to generate heat with the help of the mitochondria. Heat exposure triggers mild stress in the body that forces the mitochondria to adapt and increase functional capacity. Both cold and heat therapy may increase autophagy and cellular rejuvenation .

For cold therapy take cold showers, ice baths, and cryotherapy. For heat therapy, you may try infrared sauna or other sauna therapy. To combine the two one  may jump into a cold pool or cold shower after a sauna use or alternative between cold and hot showers, finishing off with a cold shower.

(Dr Naresh Purohit is – Executive Member-Indian Academy of Neurology. The views expressed here are of the author)

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