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How To Increase Your Mitochondrial Health
Mighty Mitochondria. Tiny, but mighty. There are anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 mitochondria in every single cell (except red blood cells) in our bodies. They even make up around one-third of your total body weight!
But what are they? They are most often described as power houses, generating power and energy in your body. Much like Eskom powers the country! That action you just made, rolling your eyes, that took energy, sponsored by your mitochondria!
These mini-but-mighty-mitos keep your heart pumping, you brain firing, your hormones regulating, your lungs inhaling and exhaling, fire up your immune system and allow your digestive system to operate.
The primary function of your mitochondria is to make ENERGY to fuel your bodily functions!
The Simple Science
Mitochondria are organelles (originally derived from bacteria of non-human origin with their own DNA) that reside within our cells. They extract energy from the food (glucose) you eat, add a dash of oxygen and out comes a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP creates all the energy that your body needs to keep all systems running. Any bodily function that requires energy, is thanks to your mitochondria.
Mitochondria are increasingly being recognised as the most important factor when it comes to ageing, and particularly regarding age-related diseases (particularly of the brain): mitochondrial dysfunction is always present when there is ageing and decline.
So, what exactly happens?
I’ll keep it short: when your cells are placed under stress, your mighty-mitos can’t make energy as efficiently as they used to. This results in an increase in the production of molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROSs), also known as free radicals.
When there are more free radicals than antioxidants (the soldiers on the good side, also made by healthy mitochondria and inhibiting the damaging effects of free radicals), it’s called OXIDATION and this damages the very structure of your cells.
Take ageing as an example: your mitochondria start getting weaker, so free radicals increase and they launch an attack on your cells. When your mitochondria get damaged in this process as you age, they begin making an excess of free radicals. This oxidative stress causes significant damage to your cells, and we start to age (for example, losing skin elasticity as energy is diverted to more essential functions).
Finally, your mitochondria are also responsible for triggering cellular apoptosis, which means killing off cells at the right time and cleaning them out of the system. Killing cells too early or too late just adds to the carnage.
Does this mean we just eat antioxidant rich foods and slap on a Vitamin C serum to stop the process? These are indeed good ways to boost antioxidants to fight off free radicals, but we require a far more wholesale approach to really give it horns!
How do our cells get placed under stress in the first place?
As explained, your mitochondria must make at least as many antioxidants as it creates free radicals. But what exactly hampers its ability to do so? The following factors, some which we can control and some which we can’t, are the main elements waging war on our mitochondria:
- Diet: eating processed foods, sugar, vegetable oils and artificial flavourings
- Not enough movement / exercise
- EMF exposure
- Certain medications can inhibit mitochondrial function
- Inadequate or poor-quality sleep
- Ongoing (unaddressed) trauma or emotional strain
- Toxicity (environmental chemicals, heave metals, mould, parasites)
All of these things stress the body and hinder the mitochondria’s ability to make energy, with the result being widespread chronic inflammation. This process is at the heart of ageing and all disease, most notably Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Common symptoms and signs of mitochondrial dysfunction are (hold on, the list is long!): low energy and fatigue, dizziness, brain fog, migraines, waking up still feeling tired, poor concentration and cognition, poor exercise tolerance, muscle weakness, low body temperature, leaky guy, trouble sleeping, thyroid problems, chronic inflammation, suppressed immune system, loss of libido, weight gain, anxiety and vision and hearing problems.
But there’s good news, right? RIGHT!
How to support your mitochondria
You can come back guns blazing with the below tactics and give your mitochondria a leading edge. Here are the top strategies:
The Power of Light
Light is energy and fundamental to our existence. Light tells our hormones what to do, manages our metabolism and literally affects us on a cellular level. I cannot overemphasise the importance of getting adequate sunlight in the battle for ageing well. Red light therapy devices are an excellent way to supplement our daily sunlight requirements if lifestyle simply doesn’t permit bathing in the sun on a daily basis. Red/infrared light improves our mitochondrial function and allows our bodies to restore, repair and protect tissue that is injured or ageing (wear and tear). This light actually increases the amount of energy your mitochondria can produce.
Good quality, clean water is important to all-around health. Being dehydrated reduces mitochondrial output. Adding a pinch of unrefined and unbleached sea salt to your drinking water further assists the absorption of the water by your cells.
Grounding / Earthing
The Earth is like a gigantic battery that has its own subtle and natural electrical charge. Grounding or earthing is the practice of placing bare skin on earth to absorb the electrons from the Earth into the body. The idea is that these negatively charged ions and electrons return us to a natural state of health. The very best way to practice earthing is by walking barefoot in the sea. Great alternatives include walking barefoot outside on the grass or gravel or soil, or using a grounding mat (especially great in winter!). This allows you to draw electrons into your body to neutralise free radicals. While this might sound like woo-woo science to you, the supporting research is overwhelming and shows that the Earth’s energy can charge our mitochondria.
Good quality sleep is essential for mitochondrial health. During sleep, we get rid of toxins and most of the restorative work happens, allowing your mitochondria to function optimally.
Nutrient-dense food is important. Key nutrients that support mitochondrial health include B vitamins, Vitamin C, magnesium (very important), copper and iodine. Protein, healthy fats (definitely not oxidative vegetable fats like canola and sunflower) and other anti-inflammatory foods are your best bet to give those mitos a fighting chance.
Our bodies are constantly replacing old, dysfunctional cells and mitochondria with shiny new ones in a sort of recycling process. Fasting is probably the most well-known method for cleaning out the old cells, through a process known as autophagy (cellular spring cleaning). When fasting intelligently, this is a massively useful tool for mitochondrial health.
Mitos love movement! Even 10-15 minutes a day of walking, resistance training or HIIT exercise will give those mitos muscle!
Electromagnetic Field (EMF) damage causes oxidative stress on our mitochondria. It’s nigh impossible to avoid all EMF exposure in modern living, but the following goes a long way to reduce your exposure: keep your cell phone on airplane mode when you can, switch your WiFi off at night, keep your phone away from your bed at night (so as to not literally fry your poor sleeping brain) and try use wired headphones if possible (not Bluetooth).
A mindset of gratitude can literally encourage more energy production! Take 5 minutes of that morning sunshiny goodness to ponder on what you are grateful for.
Things have changed. The natural cleaning, personal care and household products are now as good, if not better, than the commercial chemical crap. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on the back of a bottle, it’s probably lying in wait to pounce on your mitochondria and destroy it with its fake floral fiendishness! Seriously, replace your household cleaners, detergents, beauty products and perfumes with natural alternatives – it’ll make a bigger difference than you can imagine!
In addition to the above strategies, there are some nutrients and supplements that are known to protect your mitochondria:
- Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD+)
NAD+ is a coenzyme (basically something that’s needed to make another substance act as a catalyst to make a specific biochemical reaction) with its most basic function being to receive and donate electrons within your mitochondria, making it crucial for cellular metabolism. By the time you reach middle age, you’ll have half the NAD+ levels of when you were young. Poor sleep is one of the biggest NAD+ killers, yet it is crucial to mitochondrial health. Supplementation with NAD+ is therefore crucial. You could either get a NAD+ IV infusion, or supplement with Nicotinamide Mononucleotide, which is a precursor to NAD+.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and free-radical scavenger that protects your cells again ROSs. It also enhances your body’s natural antioxidant capacity which allows it to reduce chronic inflammation.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Curcumin Plus
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid
ALA is a compound derived from sulphur. Our bodies make it in small quantities, but we mostly rely on diet or supplementation to get an adequate amount. ALA is an antioxidant and upregulates your body’s own antioxidant-producing ability. This is why ALA is known as the “universal antioxidant”.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Another powerful antioxidant, it has been shown to be one of the most potent substances in the fight against free radicals. It also acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Quercetin Dihydrate
Glutathione is an antioxidant which occurs naturally in your body. There is a decrease in glutathione levels in our bodies as we age, so supplementation is a good idea to support our mitochondrial health as we age.
Found in, amongst other things, blueberries, pterostilbene is a derivative of phenol resveratrol, an antioxidant. However, it appears to be better absorbed and more potent than resveratrol. Pterostilbene is valuable in your mitochondria-enhancing arsenal as it helps eliminate old and damaged cells.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Pterostilbene
The molecular structure of this substance has 60 sides and looks roughly like a soccer ball, hence the name. It is another powerful antioxidant with a host of mitochondrial benefits and in a 2021 French laboratory study demonstrated to nearly double the lifespans of rats!
Shop Here: NeuroActive C60 MCT Oil
Mitochondria are often the missing piece to the health puzzle for many people. They are the innermost parts of our cells. Think of them as your car battery: it needs to be fully charged to let the machinery work optimally. How well your mitochondria function will quite directly determine your energy levels and how long you can live a healthy life.
Due to many stressors in our environment, their ability to function optimally is impaired. The strategies outlined here will make a significant difference to your health and especially to how well you age!
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- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.