Sometimes referred to as the “powerhouses” of cells, mitochondria are tiny organelles that generate energy from the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe. It is estimated that mitochondria provide 95% of the energy that powers cells, and so ultimately, they fuel all physical functions. Mitochondrial function is tied to energy levels, aging, and the development of disease. Therefore, the healthier your mitochondria, the longer you may live. [This article, “Microchondria, Aging, And Cellular Regeneration: Keys To Staying Young” was originally published in News7Health]
The energy that mitochondria produce is in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Healthy individuals produce their body weight in ATP every day, and physical activity drives this figure even higher. Since ATP is not stored, we must produce it continuously to fuel all our physical functions. Mitochondria are so essential to life that they take up about 25% of cell volume.
While genetics play a significant role in how well your mitochondria function, lifestyle factors also greatly impact the health of these essential energy producers. Supplement makers have responded to the evidence that mitochondrial function is essential to healthy aging, and some promising new science may pave the way to a longer, healthier life. Keep reading to discover how mitochondrial health is an essential key to staying young and how you can harness the energy of this tiny powerhouse.
Mitochondria and aging
It is believed that mitochondria did not originate with multicellular life. Instead, they may have begun as primitive bacteria that entered a symbiotic relationship with early multicellular organisms, providing cells with energy in return for the antioxidants needed to protect them from damage.
This may be why mitochondria have their own DNA and can replicate within cells. Healthy mitochondria will replicate to form other healthy mitochondria, but mitochondria with mutations in their DNA contribute to disease and accelerate the aging process. This is one way that mitochondrial dysfunction can spread through your body in a ripple effect.While our bodies have processes to destroy dysfunctional mitochondria, these processes become less efficient as we age, allowing the damage to accumulate. As these dysfunctional mitochondria cause harm to cells, a vicious cycle begins to speed up the aging process and cause disease.
ATP production in humans declines by about 8% per decade as mitochondria lose their efficiency and decline in number. Since the brain uses 70% of the ATP produced by mitochondria, there is a strong correlation between loss of mitochondrial health and neurodegeneration. Furthermore, research has linked mitochondrial damage and dysfunction to almost all degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. We have less energy as we grow older because our cells have fewer healthy mitochondria to fuel our vital organs and muscles.
Free radicals: the enemy in the quest to stay young
In many ways, free radicals are the enemy if you’re trying to stay young, healthy, and energetic. In scientific terms, free radicals are molecules that have a free electron, making them highly reactive and destructive to other molecules. They can damage cell membranes, slow protein synthesis, and destroy important enzymes. Cells damaged by free radicals may become mutant cells that contribute to aging and even cancer. Free radical damage can lead to muscle weakness, ‘inflammaging,’ immune suppression, and bone frailty. Antioxidants are helpful substances that remove free radicals, and an imbalance between accumulated free radicals and antioxidants results in a harmful condition known as oxidative stress.
In the most basic sense, aging is a degenerative process that results from accumulated damage to cells, eventually leading to tissue failure and death. Mitochondria produce free radicals as a byproduct of ATP production. According to the mitochondrial free radical theory of aging (MFRTA), these free radical byproducts damage molecules in cells and accelerate aging.
Free radicals can damage mitochondrial DNA and the proteins that control mitochondrial reproduction. As a result, dysfunctional mitochondria with errors build up in cells. Dysfunctional, less efficient mitochondria then produce even more free radicals as enzymes designed to scavenge these harmful molecules decline. The result is a vicious cycle of oxidative stress and cell damage.
Some natural ways to support mitochondrial health and stay young
The body naturally produces antioxidants that protect mitochondria from free radical damage, but this process declines with age. You can improve your mitochondrial function by eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants. Healthy fats found in fish oil and avocado also support mitochondria with their anti-inflammatory properties.
Caloric restriction (CR) and intermittent fasting are dietary plans thought to support mitochondrial function as they reduce oxidative stress. While CR involves eating 20-40% fewer calories than normal each day, intermittent fasting may mean that you consume your calories within a selected eight-hour window each day and fast for the remaining 16 hours. These diets increase the capacity of mitochondria to produce ATP and may boost energy levels.
Exercise can also slow mitochondrial aging as it improves the efficiency of these vital organelles. Research has shown that adults with mitochondrial damage may experience increased production of ATP with regular strength training. Exercise stimulates a process called mitochondrial biogenesis, which increases the number of mitochondria in cells. Regular endurance exercise can boost the density of mitochondria in muscles by as much as 40%. While good genes certainly help when it comes to optimal mitochondrial function as you age, a healthy diet and exercise can have a very significant impact.
Supplements that target mitochondria
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a fat-soluble nutrient found naturally in some meats, fatty fish, spinach, oranges, strawberries, soybeans, lentils, and canola oil. Also called ubiquinone, CoQ10 is sometimes known as the body’s ‘spark plug’ for its critical role in producing cellular energy. In addition to its role in making ATP, CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Cells deficient in CoQ10 may be subject to increased oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, and this essential nutrient is widely available in supplement form. However, CoQ10 is not easily absorbed, and mitochondria have impermeable walls that CoQ10 cannot penetrate.
A rising New Zealand-based company called MitoQ has formulated a solution to this problem in the form of a patented molecule that can restore mitochondria from within. The supplement, also called MitoQ, is a positively charged antioxidant that is electrochemically pulled into mitochondria, where it combats free radicals and reduces oxidative damage.
Cells treated with MitoQ replicate to form healthy cells, creating a ripple effect of health through your entire body. CEO Mahara Inglis helped to make this scientific discovery available to the public, working with a team of experts and supporting independent research to investigate the true healing capacity of this product. MitoQ has operations in the United States and China, and its products are available on Amazon.
The role of cellular health in overall health
The secret to healthy aging can be found in the smallest unit of life, the cell. As the “powerhouses” of cells, mitochondria are the key to supporting energy, health, and vitality as we age. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help to sustain the function of mitochondria and even increase their numbers.
The more mitochondria we have, the less they are ‘overworked,’ and the healthier they are. MitoQ offers a promising solution to the problem of mitochondrial decline in the form of a patented new molecule that can restore health and fight aging at the source. As science continues to discover the critical role of cellular health in overall health, we find new ways to sustain our youthful energy and live more fully, even into old age.
Scientific American: Researchers Draw New Connections Between Aging and Mitochondrial Health
Science Daily: Scientist uncovers clues to aging in mitochondria
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.