Despite our best efforts to lead healthy lives, everyday can be full of hazards for our mitochondria. From stress and poor nutrition to environmental toxins, these threats compound in a relentless cycle that can lead to chronic inflammation, dysregulated blood sugar, and underperforming mitochondria.
All of this information can feel disheartening. However, every day offers you a chance to improve your overall health and wellbeing by treating your mitochondria well. So, if you’re interested in increasing your health span, reducing your risk of disease, and improving your quality of life, this article is for you!
Table Of Contents:
- How To Support Your Mitochondria Naturally
- Where Does That Leave Us?
- Recipe Spotlight: Simple Corn Flour Crepes
How To Support Your Mitochondria Naturally
Fortunately, instead of just accepting your mitochondria's diminishing performance, there are a myriad of things you can do to give them a tune-up to supercharge their efficiency.
From eating the right food to exercising regularly, there's a lot that goes into making them work at their peak. So get ready for some cellular-level party planning and let the good times roll!
1. Cut out foods that harm your mitochondria and fill up on the right fuel
The first thing you need to do to support your mitochondria is to reduce the load you place on them. Through diet, you can eliminate foods that promote inflammation including sugar, alcohol, gluten, dairy, highly processed foods, and foods that you are intolerant of. Pay particular attention to processed oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids (corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil), alcohol, and foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Eating a variety of plants is key to safeguarding your mitochondria from harm. Nature has an abundance of antioxidant-rich superfoods that can help you protect your cells. You can eat dark leafy greens, colorful berries, as well as sulfur-rich plants like onions, garlic, leeks, cauliflower, and cabbage. You can also choose antioxidant-rich foods, such as squash, pumpkin, and radish, as well as flavorful spices and fresh herbs. These are all brimming with potent polyphenols necessary for maintaining healthy mitochondrial function.
Our cells depend on a consistent intake of filtered water to keep powering their activity and maintaining cellular integrity. Without proper hydration, our mitochondria will suffer as they require access to hydrogen molecules provided through H2O.
Drinking large quantities of water at one time can't replace what's lost when we don’t drink enough throughout the day; just like an electrical current needs balance, so do our bodies! Therefore, consistent hydration throughout the day is key.
How much water should you be drinking? You should aim to drink 8 ounces of water (or about a cup) every hour or two. If you’re engaging in activity and/or spending time outdoors where you are perspiring more than usual—be sure to increase your intake as appropriate.
3. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins
Mitochondrial activity is particularly vulnerable as these toxins can damage our mitochondrial DNA more so than the cell's nucleus, increasing your risk for serious health problems. To protect yourself, it’s essential to explore ways that you can reduce your overall exposure levels.
Some ways you can limit your exposure to toxins include:
Replacing your alcohol beverages with herbal teas or water
Purchasing organic fruits and vegetables
Using clean, chemical-free personal care products
Using a high-quality water filter
Stopping smoking and reducing your exposure to second-hand smoke
Reducing or eliminating consumption of large fish, such as tuna, marlin, shark, swordfish
Removing dental amalgams
Limiting consumption of rice due to arsenic contamination
Removing your shoes before entering your house
Washing new clothes before wearing to reduce exposure to chemicals
4. Avoid pharmaceutical drugs (where you can)
While medications can be a lifeline in certain situations, they are sometimes passed out like candy without considering alternatives or their risks and side effects. Unfortunately, some medications have the ability to impede mitochondrial function that could lead to further health complications.
Some of these include certain antibiotics such as tetracyclines, chemotherapy agents such as doxorubicin, statins, salicylic acid (commonly sold as aspirin), certain anti-diabetic medications, such as metformin, psychiatric medications such as SSRIs, valproic acid, and certain antipsychotic medications.
It is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons before taking any kind of medication. Talk to your doctor about the potential impact of your medications on mitochondrial health and explore other possible treatments. And if those don't work, see what else you can do to protect mitochondria from any ill-effects.
5. Manage your stress
Stress has a major impact on your body and can even alter mitochondrial structure and function and decrease your cellular energy. This can have damaging effects on several biological processes in the body, especially for the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems.
However, with proper techniques such as journaling, yoga, or meditation you can empower yourself by taking control of how stress affects you both mentally and physically. Get creative! Take a scenic stroll outside for some fresh air every now and then; chat up an old friend whenever possible; keep track of thoughts throughout the day by penning them down in a diary. Anything to help preserve harmony during hectic times is worth its weight in gold.
6. Expose yourself to the right light
Exposure to light is a crucial component of our biology. It's one of the essential nutrients we need to survive and thrive. But, unfortunately, not all light has the same effects on us; some forms can actually be detrimental to the health of our mitochondria.
Soaking up the sun isn't just a great way to get some Vitamin D—it's essential for our bodies in order to function properly. Science shows us that exposure is key for hormonal regulation, mitochondrial performance, and more.
Sunlight is also an essential factor in maintaining healthy bodily functioning, serving as a natural regulator of our circadian rhythm. This cycle works to stimulate hormones like cortisol and melatonin to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle and various other processes.
However, exposure to blue light emitted from electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs restricts hormone release and inhibits sleep by triggering cortisol production in response to its brightness, ushering in alertness rather than restfulness late at night.
In contrast to blue light, red light is dramatically beneficial for your body, with effects like stimulating collagen production that helps decrease pain and inflammation. Not only can it donate photons to mitochondria but research also shows it can help boost ATP energy levels throughout the body!
So some things you can do to expose yourself to the right light and decrease your exposure to the wrong light includes:
Get out in the sun first thing in the morning for approximately 20 minutes.
Ensure any light sources in your bedroom are dimmed or turned off completely! Blue-light emitting devices should also be avoided at night
Stick to a regular sleep schedule. The closer your sleep schedule aligns with sunrise and sunset, the better.
If you work late and can’t avoid your screen at night, try using blue-blocking glasses or change the settings on your phone to reduce blue light
Consider red light therapy, such as infrared sauna
7. Expose yourself to small stressors
What does this mean?
This phenomenon is known as mitohormesis. Mitohormesis is a fascinating phenomenon where mild metabolic stress acts to enhance cellular and organismal health, promoting longevity in the process. Essential to this process are reactive oxygen species (ROS). In high amounts, ROS causes damage and promotes aging; however, low levels of ROS are necessary for healthy cell function and homeostasis.
It's the “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” concept.
This is like the stress of lifting heavy weights – heavy lifting leads to a break-down of muscle fibers and the subsequent rebuilding: an essential step in the overall strengthening process. Without experiencing regular small amounts of hormesis, you can become fragile and weak.
Some examples of small stressors include:
Exercise (brief bouts of intense exercise, such as high-intensity interval training (HITT), are especially effective)
Manual therapy (massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and/or lymphatic drainage)
Cryotherapy (cold plunges/ice baths, cold showers)
Ozone therapy which is a unique approach to treating disease, as it involves introducing natural ozone gas into the body. This process generates oxidative preconditioning and unleashes an intense antioxidant effect which helps restore health
8. Take the right supplements
Taking the right supplements can give your mitochondria an extra boost. Studies have identified specific nutrients which may be key in supporting mitochondrial health and function. These include:
B vitamins are essential nutrients in supporting mitochondrial function, predominantly by serving as nutritional cofactors for enzymes that are located in mitochondria.
Five out of the eight B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, and B7) are directly involved in the functioning of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the main source of energy for cells that convert the chemical energy from nutrients into ATP, the energy currency used in thousands of cellular processes.
Vitamin E supplementation has been shown to improve mitochondrial protection against oxidative stress, particularly boosting the antioxidant capacity of the mitochondrial membrane. As a result, vitamin E prevents the reduction of the mitochondrial population under stressful conditions.
Studies suggest that iron supplementation delays aging and increases the cellular lifespan, potentially by enhancing mitochondrial function and energy production.
Although iron deficiency is related to poor mitochondrial function and other abnormalities, iron overload also has its downsides and too much can cause disastrous effects. Excess iron can form free radicals and lead to subsequent tissue damage and, therefore, its concentration in body tissues must be tightly regulated.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is the primary antioxidant the human cell provides to protect and support the mitochondria. It is concentrated in the same organs that have the highest mitochondrial density. Studies to date have shown that CoQ10 can exert neuroprotective and antioxidant effects and upregulate mitochondrial function.
Without CoQ10, the level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that the mitochondria produce drops, the energy that is available to that tissue decreases, and various health conditions can develop. Some diseases associated with CoQ10 deficiency include heart failure, coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and chronic fatigue.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, is a supplement form of cysteine that increases the pool of glutathione, an important cellular antioxidant. It is a reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenger and can restore cellular glutathione levels.
Supplemental NAC has been shown to effectively reverse mitochondrial dysfunction by raising the level of mitochondrial glutathione.
Although the primary function of mitochondria is to generate energy (ATP) from nutrients and oxygen, mitochondria are a major source of free radicals, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS). As a result, they need an efficient antioxidant defense system, of which mitochondrial glutathione emerges as the main line of defense against free radicals to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction and cell death.
Glutathione has an important role in preventing aging and neurologic disorders and strategies to boost glutathione levels can bring several health benefits.
Where Does That Leave Us?
When we're feeling under the weather, our go-to reaction is usually to directly address what hurts - whether it be giving ourselves some TLC with a massage for tense muscles or popping a pill to soothe an upset stomach.
But it’s time we zoom in and start thinking smaller. The tiny powerhouses of the cell, our mitochondria, have an immense impact on our overall health. By taking care of this small component, we can go a long way towards not only delaying aging, but also protect against dangerous illnesses linked with mitochondrial dysfunction.
By caring for our mitochondria, we can challenge that age-old notion around accepting certain symptoms as simply "part of getting older.”
Recipe Spotlight: Simple Corn Flour Crepes
In part 1 of this two-part series, we shared with you a soup recipe that will help your mitochondria function in top form. For part 2, we’re sharing another recipe that will help you fill up your body with the right fuel to power your mitochondria.
The best part is, our corn flour crepes are super easy to make! All you need to do is blend all the ingredients until the batter is smooth. Then cook these as you would your ordinary pancakes. You can even pair these with your favorite fresh fruits or a plant-based yogurt for a filling breakfast. Enjoy!