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The Mighty Mitochondria: Great Health Starts at a Cellular Level

March 06, 2020

Maximizing health and fitness as we age does not stop at just eating better to burn fat or lifting weights to build muscle. In order to really adopt a lasting physical change you also have to start small... really small, starting with the cells. People don’t often talk about health from a cellular point of view, but the generation and maturation of your cells has a major impact on how you feel and how you go about your day. Having more energy and good health starts with those cells — more specifically the mighty mitochondria inside your cells.

Cells, and the energy factory inside the cells called the mitochondria, are microscopic, so it can be easy to overlook their importance. However, improving your mitochondrial health is one of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your life. 

Mitochondria — Energy Inside the Cell

To break down health to a microscopic level, start by imagining a single cell inside your body and what it might look like. Inside each cell is something called the mitochondria — its primary responsibility is to create energy that the cell can use to complete its important everyday processes.

Mitochondria are responsible for taking nutrients using them to create something called adenosine triphosphate, more commonly abbreviated as ATP. This is fuel for the entire body. Your body needs this fuel for all the voluntary and involuntary functions, from the most mundane tasks like sitting upright while driving in your car to more active movement, like lifting weights.

Given their role as energy producers, it’s an understatement to say that mitochondria are essential contributors to how you look and feel every day.

What Could Go Wrong? Symptoms of Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Despite being so tiny, cells need an incredible amount of energy in order to function properly. If the mitochondria in the cell are not doing their job, you’ll start to notice poor function in different areas of the body.

Below are some possible recognizable symptoms you might experience when mitochondria stop working efficiently:

Cognitive Dysfunction

A study published in Human Molecular Genetics found that those with a mitochondrial disorder may develop a cognitive disability, which could manifest itself in the form of a learning disability, social impairment, or inability to speak properly. That same study above suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction may play a role in the development of certain cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Mental Health Issues

Someone with poor mitochondrial health may experience an increase in issues related to mood and mindset. A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that neuropsychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are more common in those individuals with unhealthy mitochondria.

Headaches and Fatigue

It’s not uncommon for those with unhealthy mitochondria to report feeling weak. They usually also complain about fatigue that is accompanied by headaches.

Overall Development Delays

Children with dysfunctions in their mitochondria are more likely to experience issues with their overall physical and cognitive development. For example, some experts suggest that poor mitochondrial health can influence stature and key developmental stages in children.

Now What? How Can I Improve Mitochondria Health

You now know how mitochondrial health and function directly correlates to the overall health of your body and mind. If you do recognize some or many of the symptoms that relate to possible mitochondrial dysfunctioning, what can be done to improve your health? 

Let’s review some lifestyle changes you can start doing today to boost the health and performance of your mitochondria.

Intermittent Fasting (16 / 8 or 24-Hours)

Intermittent fasting has gotten a great deal of attention during the last decade for weight loss, cardiovascular health, and overall wellness. Once thought to be solely a religious practice, fasting has found support in numerous studies and expert recommendations.

A study published in PLoS One found that intermittent fasting can improve the process of getting rid of old and unhealthy mitochondria while replacing them with young and healthy ones.

There are multiple methods of intermittent fasting, but the two most popular are the 16 / 8 method and the 24-hour method.

  • 16 / 8: You fast for 16 hours each day and eat during an eight-hour feeding window. Most people start their fast at 8 p.m. and don’t begin their feeding window until 12 p.m. the next day. Water and calorie-free beverages are okay during the fast.
  • 24-Hour: Once or twice per week, you completely abstain from food. Water and calorie-free beverages are okay. Most people will begin their fast at 8 a.m. and then resume their normal eating habits at 8 a.m. the next day.

Try A Short Term Keto Diet

A study published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that the ketogenic diet was an effective treatment for a variety of mitochondrial disorders, especially for a short amount of time, like a few months. 

When you are on the ketogenic diet, your body ceases to use glucose (sugar) and begins to use something called ketone bodies. Ketones are produced in the liver and the brain prefers them as its fuel source. Mitochondria are also big fans of ketones. In fact, a study published in Human Molecular Genetics discovered that the ketogenic diet helped to slow the progression of certain diseases and also improved cognitive ability, including focus and concentration.

HIIT Exercise

For all those who enjoy working out in shorter periods of time, there is a great way to naturally boost your cell’s energy production. According to PLoS One, all types of physical activity and exercise are great for mitochondrial health, but one stands above the rest: high-intensity interval training. This type of exercise is usually done in a shorter amount of time, ranging from 10-30 minutes each session.

More commonly called HIIT, this form of exercise has been shown to boost mitochondrial turnover, growth, and maintenance. One study published in Cell Metabolism concluded that HIIT workouts resulted in a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity in young adults while older adults saw a 69% boost in mitochondrial capacity.

HIIT workouts involve performing several bodyweight exercises back-to-back with no rest until you get through the entire list. Once you rest for a few minutes, complete the list again. Here’s a sample HIIT workout that you can begin using during your next training session:

  • Jump Squats: 10
  • Push-Ups: 5
  • Side Lunges: 10
  • Pull-Ups: 5
  • Mountain Climbers: 5
  • Burpees: 5

If you have a medical condition that prevents you from performing this type of high-impact exercise, it’s still important that you get up and move around. Modifications to all the HIIT can be done and you do not have to do extreme versions like a professional athlete. You just have to get up and move your body! The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week or 75-minutes of high-intensity exercise each week.

What Else Can I Do?

Don’t want to do any pushups or lunges? No problem! Here are some additional ways to increase your physical activity level, support weight management, and boost mitochondrial health without worrying about too high of an intensity level:

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning up around the house
  • Going on long walks (optional: bring along small dumbbells)
  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Low-impact weightlifting

Get Plenty of Sleep

When you’re sleeping, your body is able to work on removing waste and harmful buildup; this includes old and unhealthy mitochondria. If you are not getting enough sleep then you’re missing out on a chance to improve your mitochondrial health.

One study published in Science Magazine found that getting at least seven hours of sleep each night resulted in an enhanced ability to clear away biowaste while improving the health of cells and mitochondria.

In order to prepare for bed, we recommend powering down all electronics at least one hour before you crawl under the covers. Try taking a warm shower, but keeping your room cool. Consider taking a natural sleep supplement with 4.5 mg of melatonin, the optimum amount for improved sleep, and bioactive milk peptides to help you get to sleep and stay asleep.

Supplement with Active CoQ10 (Ubiquinol)

Our bodies naturally produce a coenzyme called Coenzyme Q10, which is involved in a whopping 95% of the body’s cellular energy production. Unfortunately, our production of CoQ10 declines as we age, and as a result of oxidative stress and other factors. To replenish your body’s supplies of CoQ10, you need to supplement daily with CoQ10 in its active form, called ubiquinol.

Multiple studies have demonstrated supplementing with ubiquinol helps with energy production, helps protect against damage caused by free radicals, oxidative stress, and medications, making it essential for cellular health. 

Most CoQ10 supplements on the market contain only ubiquinone — the oxidized form of CoQ10, which must be converted in the body to ubiquinol, meaning most of these supplements are poorly absorbed. You really need to make sure you are supplementing everyday with at least 100 mg of ubiquinol — the only active form of CoQ10.  

Conclusion

Sometimes you have to start small and work your way up when it comes to getting more energy and sustaining that throughout the day. So, think of your cells and the health of your mitochondria, the mighty energy producers! Thriving mitochondria are essential for optimal health.The best ways to support the health of your mitochondria include: intermittent fasting, trying the ketogenic diet for a short period of time, performing short bursts of high intensity interval workouts, getting plenty of sleep each night, and supplementing with ubiquinol daily.

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