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by Christina Wilson September 09, 2023

Mitochondria, you say? Didn’t I learn a little bit about them in high school?!

Pronounced (mi·to·chon·dri·a), mitochondria are considered the powerhouses of the cell, generating most of the energy in your body by converting nutrition into adenosine-5’- triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel. We are constantly using it, and your brain needs enough of it to work properly.

Numerous studies show that there is a correlation between impaired mitochondrial function in the brain and many psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

WHY DO WE NEED THEM?

Each cell has between 100,000 and 600,000 mitochondria. As we age, this number starts to diminish, leading to many of the age-related diseases and ailments common in today’s society, such as:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impairment of gastrointestinal, liver, kidney, and immune function

It’s believed that mitochondria emerged from bacteria as part of human evolution as a way for us to synthesize energy more efficiently. They even have their own unique DNA that’s passed down through the maternal line. 

SO, WHAT EXACTLY DO MITOCHONDRIA DO? 

  • ENERGY PRODUCTION: Mitochondria converts chemical energy from the food we eat into an energy form (ATP) that the cell can use. 
  • CELLULAR DEATH: Out with the old, in with the new. As a cell becomes old or damaged, it needs to be cleared out and destroyed. Mitochondria plays a crucial role in helping the body decide which cells need to be destroyed via a process called apoptosis. This process is important, removing potentially cancerous cells before they become a problem.
  • HEAT PRODUCTION: Mitochondria can shiver! Well, not really, but they help our body generate heat, which is crucial for keeping the body at a thermal set point and revving metabolism.

As we age, we are naturally exposed to more and more oxidative stress, which deteriorates our mitochondria over time — unless we are proactive about lifestyle and diet choices to nourish them.

WAYS TO NOURISH MITOCHONDRIA

Managing your stress levels may be important to keeping your mitochondria healthy – along with exercise training and even intermittent fasting, which can prompt cells to regenerate their mitochondria. Another study indicates “chronic stress may critically affect cellular energy metabolism” which shows a connection between anxiety and mitochondrial dysfunction.

  • Heat Therapy. Specifically, saunas have been shown to increase the efficiency of mitochondria.  When using heart therapy, the energetic needs of our mitochondria go up, and they respond by using oxygen in the blood more efficiently. 
  • Intermittent Fasting. Fasting 12 + hours between dinner and breakfast it lowers the production of free radicals and removes damaged mitochondria. It also triggers the biogenesis of new mitochondria.  
  • Eating sufficient quality protein and fat. Amino acid, and fatty acid deficiencies can weaken mitochondria. 
  • Eat those veggies. Phytonutrients help with oxidative stress. 
  • Don't over or undereat which puts stress on your blood sugar. 
  • Take Your Supplements.  Aim to take an omega-3,  alpha-lipoic acid, and L-carnitine daily to improve mitochondrial function by boosting respiratory enzymes and cell membrane stability. 
  • Physical Exercise. One of the best ways to increase your oxygen intake, critical for mitochondria, is through moving your body.  Try implementing HIIT training 2x/a week to optimize mitochondria function. 

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Christina Wilson
Christina Wilson

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