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Let’s Talk About Your Mitochondria

Medical Director, Neurologist

What are mitochondria and what role do they play in our health?

Mitochondria are organelles in every cell of our body and they produce the energy for that cell and, by extension, for the organ of which that cell resides. Depending upon how metabolically active the organ is will dictate how many mitochondria are in each of the cell. For example, the muscles and the brain are very metabolically active and so contain many mitochondria.

Mitochondria were once simple independent organisms who over time incorporated themselves into our cells because we developed a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with them. We offered protection and they fed us energy. Hence, they have their own DNA that is different from the DNA within the nucleus of our cells.

These organelles make energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate by a chain of enzymes called the respiratory chain. At the end of the chain is where cellular ATP is generated. The genetics of mitochondrial disease is complex but in the last decade we now understand there is a spectrum of dysfunction. You don’t need true mitochondrial disease.

This respiratory chain is composed of 5 enzyme complexes and 2 carriers of the electrons needed to generate the energy. And it follows the age-old adage of the weakest link. If any of the complexes were not efficient in their job, they are the weak link in the chain and energy production may be compromised. Any further burden on the mitochondria makes that compromise even worse. So, illness, stress, infection, environmental toxins, etc. can result in overall fatigue, weakness, and a prolonged recovery from exercise or any exertion.

These enzymes need co-factors. And co-factors come in the form of vitamins and other compounds. Those with mitochondrial disease are placed on a “mitochondrial cocktail” which has many different components.

If concerned about your energy states, I often recommend the following:

  1. See your physician and have a thorough examination as there are some potentially treatable reasons why we become tired.
  2. Consider a mitochondrial workup.
  3. Supplement Coenzyme Q10 – necessary for the chain to function.
  4. Supplement Carnitine – required for the effective transfer of fatty acids to be used as substrates for the generation of energy.
  5. Follow an anti-inflammatory lifestyle as inflammation is a huge burden on the mitochondria. This can be done by proper nutrition, sleep, and movement.

Now more than ever before we understand that true self-care can have exponential effects on our physiology and long-term well-being.