Ever wonder why some people have boundless energy while others drag their heels day after day? Caffeine consumption aside, the secret to sustained, optimal energy lies in minding your mitochondria.
What Is the Job of the Mitochondria in a Cell?
Here's a quick refresher: mitochondria are tiny structures involved in a wide variety of cell functions, including: (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Storing calcium ions needed for muscle movement
- Forming heme needed to ferry oxygen around the body as hemoglobin
- Producing steroid hormones
- Signaling the cell's time to die, making room for new ones.
But all these mitochondria functions, vital as they are, don't even come close compared to one critical enterprise.
Where Does Cellular Respiration Occur?
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. In a multi-step process known as cellular respiration, they crank out energy from the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe in the form of a chemical called adenosine triphosphate, ATP. (1)
Cellular respiration is complex involving several enzymes with associated helper substances.
The cellular respiration process starts in the cell's jelly-like space (the cytoplasm), where it yields just a little bit of ATP. But the grand finale — where the vast majority of ATP creation happens — occurs in each and every mitochondrion of a cell.
Depending on the type of cell it is, for example, a heart or brain cell, there may be thousands of these miniature power plants humming, or better yet, roaring, along 24/7 in each of your cells. Except for red blood cells, all cells in humans have mitochondria.
Now multiply that by the trillions of cells in your body, all buzzing along, putting out energy.
The sum of all the energy production in a living system (like you) plus all the energy outlays going on during cell activities like growth, or waste elimination is called metabolism.
How can you speed up your metabolism to get more energy? Below, we share some beneficial suggestions. (Hint: Think mitochondria.)
Our Chemical Currency: ATP
Once ATP forms, your body uses it like chemical currency fueling biological activities, including repairing tissues, making new cells, and simply moving around.
When conditions are spot-on, mitochondria will make more ATP. This means high-energy days for you. Think peak athletic performance and super-focused brain.
Mitochondria signal the message to initiate cells' deaths. If cells die off without being replaced, there will be fewer mitochondria and less ATP.
The result is lower energy, dysfunction, and potentially disease. (Think old age.)
This scenario could happen as you grow older (it happens to the best of us), but it's not inevitable — it doesn't have to!
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maximize mitochondrial creation and boost ATP generation.
Here are the Top 7 ways to make your mitochondria function optimally.
Each one depends on healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices. These, in turn, positively influence the genes regulating mitochondrion formation and function. (5)
1. Remove toxins from your body
All toxins are not created equal.
Those created internally are called free radicals (a type of reactive oxygen species or ROS). They're an undesirable consequence of just being alive.
For example, many free radicals are highly reactive byproducts of ATP production. (Too bad you can't get all that useful energy without a price.) All ROS are very harmful to healthy cells. Too many unchecked free radicals throw cells into a chronic state of disorder called oxidative stress.
Free radical damage involves inflammation, which in turn leads to many severe health conditions. For instance, when free radicals target DNA, serious health issues often results. If fat molecules (lipids) are their prey, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) leading to cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke) may be a consequence. (6)
When the lipid parts of mitochondria are damaged, those powerhouses will make less energy or even die.
Fortunately, free radicals can be detoxified in the liver. Unfortunately, that process itself can create more free radicals – some of them more damaging than those that set the whole process off in the first place! (7)
Staying healthy is like a juggling act where we aim to keep the ROS balanced by antioxidants. When your liver is doing a good job and producing even more free radicals, you'll need a lot more antioxidants.
The second type of toxin comes from the external world. We're exposed to a toxic mess of environmental insults like: (8)
- Heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic, etc.)
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (benzene, formaldehyde)
- Pesticides (chlorpyrifos, glyphosate)
- Microplastics in some foods & condiments
- Prescription and over-the-counter drug residues
- Molds and yeasts (stachybotrys, Candida albicans)
And that's just a short list!
You get daily doses of all these bad actors through food, water, air, and the items you use like household cleaners or personal care products. Furniture, building materials, and sometimes even clothes contribute to an onslaught of potentially very hazardous chemicals. (9)
Just like internal toxins, environmental toxins are processed mainly by the liver and kidneys. However, when the toxic load is too high, the unwanted chemicals get stored in these organs or fatty tissue (like the breast). Some heavy metals make it to the brain or bone, where they may stay for years, decades, or sometimes even for the rest of your life.
Toxins take their toll on your health. Symptoms that arise from regular toxic chemical exposure include:
- Chronic tiredness
- Joint pain
One way to eliminate environmental toxins from your digestive tract is by providing a roomy surface filled with nooks and crannies to trap them. Help this along with binders to speed up natural detox. (10)
2. Support your body's detox processes
Start your journey to optimal energy right where you are with your own body's protective resources and mechanisms.
Your body both renders toxins less potent and filters them out for elimination in several ways, including: (11, 12, 13)
- Digestive system
- Liver and kidneys
- Immune system
For tens of thousands of years, your liver, kidneys, and your immune system performed their detoxification roles without much extra effort. It's quite a different story in today's toxic world.
Most of the environmental contaminants listed above are relatively new inventions — beginning with the industrial age and the use of the coal-burning engine. Only since the 1950s have petrochemicals become the basis for pesticides and everything from prescription drugs to plastics. (14, 15, 16)
Human evolution can't keep up with the internal detoxification of so many synthetic chemicals. Your natural detoxification methods can benefit from a boost, helping them handle all the exposure to additional chemical challenges.
Removing toxins is essential for optimal energy. Until you do so, your mitochondria won't function at peak performance.
Fortunately, your interventions can enhance your mitochondrial efforts!
- You can help by supplying your detox organs and immune system with micronutrients that they need to function best. (See #7 below for a list of the significant vitamins and minerals needed for energy production.)
Second, spread some love to your mitochondria in the form of oxygen. Ensure that your mitochondria get plenty of the oxygen essential for energy generation. (Remember: It's food plus oxygen that drives cellular respiration.)
3. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself or consume bland, tasteless meals. A wide variety of nutritious foods like the ones listed below will nourish your body.
Here’s a lineup of suggested food choices to minimize chronic inflammation while maximizing robust health. (7, 17)
- Leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards)
- Brightly-colored vegetables (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes)
- Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
- Good-for-you fats
- Coconut oil
- Wild-caught salmon
- Grass-fed meats
- Organ meats
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
Veggies supply potent antioxidants essential to reducing the oxidative stress caused by the free radical byproducts of ATP formation.
Fats provide a high-energy fuel source for your mitochondria to function optimally.
Fish and meats contribute healthy doses of brain-fortifying omega-3 fatty acids.
All these food choices can contribute to a healthy microbiota. Chemical cross-talk between happy gut microbes and your mitochondria keeps those mighty little “mitos” optimally fit for ATP production. (18)
Want to go the extra mile nutritionally? Try to restrict calorie intake periodically through intermittent fasting. Your bio-batteries will thrive. If you've tried it, you can attest that your energy levels respond favorably! (19)
4. Stay hydrated with lots of clean, pure water
Remember how we mentioned the liquid-y cytoplasm inside cells as the spot where cellular respiration kicks off? All the complex chemical reactions happen when the cellular respiratory action moves from this nutrient-rich H2O sac to the mitochondria.
In other words, this vital energy pathway occurs in water. So, you must be mindful of replenishing the water your cells absolutely cannot do without by hydrating well every day.
Another reason to drink lots of fluids is to keep your drainage pathways clear & open so your body can eliminate harmful toxins. The water's flushing action cannot be emphasized enough as a sure-fire way to rev up your internal engine. (20)
5. Move more intensely
Brisk walking, running, and weight training are all good. Even better is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Doing quick bursts of activity for a few seconds followed by several minutes of moderate activity is the secret sauce when it comes to fit “mitos.” (21)
Do it, then repeat the sequence. It works with running, swimming, or exercise machines. Try it! Your mitochondria will love you for it.
Better yet, perform HIIT when it's frigid outside...in shorts. This is a great way to supercharge your little power plants! (22)
6. Get lots of great shut-eye
You can never underestimate the power of sound sleep. It's exceptionally restorative to brain health as well as to mitochondria. Have you ever heard of the glymphatic system? It's the drainage system of the brain that rounds up toxins while you sleep. (23, 24)
When we don't get enough high-quality sleep, toxins build up, and mitochondria fail to function optimally. So make sure you get sufficient every night.
7. Promote energy production with support
At several points in the complex energy-making process, mitochondria need essential substances to keep stoking the metabolic fire.
Only tiny amounts of these cofactors and coenzymes are required. (25)
Thus, their collective name: micronutrients.
Even though very low levels of micronutrients are required, they'll be missed if your diet is deficient in any one of them.
Not only will they be missed, but your energy-making machinery will also take a holiday.
In cellular respiration, minerals serve as cofactors, and vitamins are essential in forming the coenzymes.
These substances are highly specific to each of the complex reactions making up cellular respiration. Without them, ATP production slows considerably — and may even grind to a halt.
Then, mitochondrial dysfunction sets in. This manifests as low energy and other unpleasant symptoms like brain fog, muscle pain, or depression.
The following vitamins and minerals are present in a healthy diet, but you may wish to add dietary support to keep your mito-energy factories working at high capacity.
Most are needed in tiny amounts.
Minerals (25, 26, 27, 28)
- B vitamins, especially these: (25, 29, 30 )
Methylated B9 (folate)
Methylated B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin C (25)
Many of the foods listed above in #3 are sky-high in these micronutrients. The absolute best sources of B vitamins are salmon and organ meats. Leafy greens are also high in some members of the B family. You probably know that citrus is tops for vitamin C. Kale and other cruciferous vegetables aren’t too far behind.
It's A No Brainer
A review of the 7-point mito-boosting list:
- Remove Toxins
- Support Detox Systems
- Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- Stay Hydrated
- Move More Intensely
- Get Good Sleep
- Promote Energy Production
All seven are crucial when it comes to your own self-care. Implementing them is key to your good health. Each of the methods of shifting your “mitos” into high gear is essential to vibrant health.
It's not complicated. It's not long and involved, either. The seven strategies are merely different approaches to achieving the same goal: robust health and vitality through energetic "mitos."
In the process of following these seven steps, you boost your own body's natural abilities to thrive. When your reward is daily, robust vitality, minding your mitochondria is a no-brainer.