You’re worn out. There’s no reason. Your doctor has run all the tests, and they’ve come back normal. But you feel anything but normal. Brain fog, headaches, deep fatigue when you wake up. The simplest yoga exercises floor you for days, and you worry your friends and family think you’re lazy because you had to bring something store-bought to the last pot-luck.
Your lack of energy may be reflecting issues you’re having on a cellular level. That’s right: something in your cells may be making you feel bad. When mitochondria stop working well it can cause a number of chronic conditions – and leave you feeling wiped. There’s no one easy lab test for mitochondrial function, but there are several nutrients and markers you can have tested by a functional medicine practitioner to help gage your mitochondrial health. Continue reading to get the full dish on mitochondria and how you can boost your energy.
What Are Mitochondria and Why Are They Important?
Mitochondria are very tiny, but they perform such an important role in your body! Most of your cells contain mitochondria, a type of organelle which serves to manage respiration and energy production within the cell. Using nutrients absorbed by the cell, your mitochondria are able to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your cells need ATP as it’s a super-powerful form of energy required to carry out many tasks. You can’t live without ATP!
Your cells use ATP for:
- Active transport – in short, passing nutrients and oxygen through the cell membrane and removing waste products the same way.
- Cell maintenance – ATP allows the cell to maintain its various structures, along with the cell membrane.
- Cell signaling – the process of communication within the cell, and with other cells. The communication is particularly important when tissues are healing.
- Synthesizing DNA and RNA – the adenosine in ATP is an important ingredient used in RNA synthesis. Without ATP your DNA couldn’t be copied when your cells multiply.
Your muscle cells need ATP to make your muscles contract and relax – including those in your heart. ATP is also crucial for the normal function of your nervous system – nerve cells need it to maintain energy levels in preparation for firing synapses. Mitochondria are nifty in the way they pack a strong form of energy into a storable form in the cell – like when you stock up on high-capacity batteries.
So if your mitochondria are healthy, your cells make enough energy for a number of processes – some crucial for living, and some that are far more subtle. But what happens when your mitochondrial health is impaired?
What Does Mitochondrial Damage Do to the Body?
As your mitochondria are responsible for generating 90% of your body’s energy, when they’re damaged, the consequences are numerous. Think of a busy freeway – when all the cars are happily driving along, traffic flows smoothly. But when just a few vehicles have engine trouble, they can slow all the others down, ultimately affecting everyone’s journey.
Mitochondrial damage can be caused by:
- Free radical damage, caused by ageing, and certain medications, and the function of mitochondria themselves
- Mitochondrial mutations
- Disrupted homeostasis of the mitochondria
- Certain gene expressions
- Toxins – such as alcohol, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
Dysfunctional mitochondria can contribute to a number of symptoms, and may play a part in several chronic diseases. Specific mitochondrial diseases occur with gene mutations (usually from birth), and they include Leigh’s disease, and pyruvate dehydrogenase complex deficiency (PDCD) for example. Such diseases are usually spotted early. When mitochondria just aren’t operating at full capacity (secondary mitochondrial dysfunction), it can cause more subtle issues for you.
Have you ever struggled with:
- Muscle weakness or cramps?
- Physical inability to exercise?
- Brain fog?
- Regular infections?
If so – you may be struggling with insufficient ATP, caused by poorly functioning mitochondria. And when your mitochondria no longer works well, it can result in premature cell death, and unhealthy tissues. Mitochondria are especially vital for brain health – as your brain uses 20% of your total body energy. Poor mitochondrial function in the brain has even been linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
Mitochondrial fatigue can also contribute to chronic diseases, including:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to diseases involving chronic pain. Although inflammation plays a huge part in long-term pain, there’s no mistaking that lowered levels of ATP can complicate matters.
As a doctor who focuses on functional medicine, I’m aware of how your body and related processes are all connected. There can be so many root causes of disease – and my clinical experience has shown me that mitochondrial dysfunction is a common culprit behind chronic health conditions. Fortunately, it’s something that you can change.
How Do You Improve Mitochondrial Health?
The good news: if you suspect you have unhealthy mitochondria, there are ways you can restore their function and boost your energy!
To improve your mitochondrial energy look into:
- Adjusting your diet – make sure you’re eating enough protein, as your body converts it into amino acids, which are crucial to mitochondrial function. Eat plants rich in antioxidants to help fight against damaging free-radicals, alongside healthy fats which boost ATP production.
- Supplementing your diet with certain vitamins and minerals. Work with your functional medicine doctor to decide on dosages of supplements. A few common examples of supplements to support the mitochondria include the following:
- Coenzyme Q10 – a crucial molecule to the mitochondria in creating ATP, it also works as an antioxidant.
- Carnitine – an important amino acid that aids the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria.
- Magnesium – Studies show that optimal magnesium levels lead to healthy mitochondria and better ATP production.
- Riboflavin/Vitamin B2 — vital to energy production in the electron transport chain and required for normal ATP production.
- Alpha lipoic acid — helps with age associated cognitive and mitochondrial dysfunction in the brain by reducing oxidative damage and improving antioxidant levels.
- Nicotinamide riboside — a B-vitamin that is an important cofactor for mitochondrial energy production and function.
- Taurine – A taurine deficiency can lead to premature cell death and in animal models has shown to impact the health and activity of mitochondria.
- Infrared therapy – IR therapy can reduce oxidative stress and energize ATP production in your mitochondria throughout your body. And it’s not invasive! At Arizona Wellness Medicine, we offer a choice of infrared sauna or the BioMat. Infrared therapy is also amazing for reducing chronic pain and stress.
You can get your energy back! If you’re interested in checking out functional medicine, medical acupuncture, infrared sauna or BioMat treatments in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Arizona area, call to book an appointment at 602 892-4727 or fill out our contact form and we will be in touch with you.