Do Your Mitochondria Need a Tune-Up?
In my practice of integrative medicine, focusing on the chronic, complex illness that my patient’s experience in response to persistent exposures to the many environmental toxins in our air, food and water, I find that acquired mitochondrial dysfunction is arguably the most important problem that requires attention to promote recovery from illness. I often find myself telling my clients that if their mitochondria were “hitting on all cylinders” they would not need my help. I really don’t think this is an overstatement. They really are that critical to total health and wellness.
You may be asking, “What are mitochondria?” and “what is acquired mitochondrial dysfunction?”
Your mitochondria are tiny little oval-shaped bodies that exist in virtually all our cells. The leading theory is that they were at one time (over a billion years ago) free-living bacteria-like living things that merged with and took up a symbiotic relationship with our more highly developed cells. Your mitochondria generate all of your body heat and almost all of the energy that you need to power all your body’s activities in the form of stored chemical energy, known as ATP. They are the Powerhouse of the Cell.
Acquired dysfunction (as opposed to inherited or in-borne dysfunction) happens in response to various triggers that cause them to not produce enough energy to keep us warm and energized. In essence it results in a Power Brown Out or Power Outage.
Perhaps the most interesting recent discovery about mitochondrial dysfunction is called the Mitochondrial Cell Danger Response. It turns out that higher centers like the limbic brain (or stress response brain center) actually control our mitochondrial energy production in a major way. The brain can dial back mitochondrial activity creating a hibernation-like state. This can happen almost instantly in response to a wide variety of threat stimuli to the body such as toxins, stress or infection. In order to restore mitochondrial energy production to normal, this cell danger response must be terminated. We are learning new ways to do just that. In fact stress management is perhaps the quickest way to reverse the cell danger response.
Mitochondria are different from the rest of your cells in a number of ways. For one thing, they have their own set of DNA genes. They also differ from other cell structures because they have two outer membranes. This double membrane is key to their energy production mission. Mitochondria are very fragile and are more sensitive to certain toxins than are the rest of your cells. Similar to bacteria, mitochondria can be damaged by certain antibiotics. They are also easily damaged by toxic metals like mercury. The poison Cyanide stops mitochondrial energy production in seconds leading to sudden death. Oxygen deprivation stops mitochondrial energy production in minutes also leading to death by asphyxiation. Mitochondria require special nutrients that are not really as necessary to the rest of the cell. Mitochondrial-specific nutrients include NAD, Coenzyme Q10, carnitine, PQQ and ALA.
Although there are many supplements on the market to support mitochondrial function, I have found that supplementation alone is often not that effective in reversing acquired mitochondrial dysfunction if other steps are not taken to remove toxins and reverse the cell danger response. Restoring mitochondrial nutrients can speed up restoration of mitochondrial energy production as these other important issues are also dealt with.