Ever wonder why some people have boundless energy while others drag their heels day after day? Caffeine perks 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:
Storing calcium ions needed for muscle movement (1)
Forming heme needed to ferry oxygen around the body as hemoglobin (2)
Producing steroid hormones (3)
Signaling the cell's time to die and make room for new ones. (4)
But all these mitochondria functions, vital as they are, don't even come close in comparison 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.
It 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. With the exception of 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.
Voila! 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 elimination of waste is called metabolism.
How can you speed up your metabolism to get more energy? Read on for some suggestions. (Hint: Think mitochondria.)
Our Chemical Currency: ATP
Once ATP forms, your body uses it like chemical money 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.
Remember how mitochondria are cells' death messengers, too? If cells die off without being replaced, there will be fewer mitochondria and less ATP.
Result? Lower energy, dysfunction and possibly disease.
Sounds like a horrible case of old age.
This scenario could happen as you grow older, (yeah - it happens to the best of us), but 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.
There are those created internally - 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. In fact, 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. (6) For instance, when free radicals target DNA, cancer often results. If fat molecules (lipids) are their prey, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) leading to cardiovascular diseases (for example: heart attacks, stroke) may be a consequence.
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 the ones 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. We need a lot more antioxidants when our liver is doing its job right and producing even more free radicals. (More on antioxidants in #3 below.)
A second type of toxin comes from the external world. (8) We're exposed to a toxic mess of environmental insults like:
- Heavy metals (lead, mercury, arsenic to name a few)
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene and formaldehyde
- Pesticides (for example, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate)
- Microplastics in some foods & condiments
- Prescription and over-the-counter drug residues
- Molds and yeasts (for example, the infamous Candida albicans)
And that's just the short list!
You get daily doses of all these external bad guys 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 a personal onslaught of potentially very hazardous chemicals. (9)
Just like internal toxins, environmental toxins are processed mainly by the liver and kidneys. When the toxic load is too high, however, the unwanted chemicals get stored in these organs or in fatty tissue (like the breast). Some heavy metals make it to the brain or bone where they may stay for years, decades or even for the rest of your life.
Shocking, isn't it?
Toxins take their toll on your health. Symptoms you may experience from regular exposure to toxic chemicals include:
- Chronic tiredness
- Joint pain
Do you experience any other symptoms that you think are caused by toxic chemical overload?
Heads Up! One way to eliminate environmental toxins from your digestive tract is to provide a roomy surface filled with nooks and crannies for them to get trapped. (10) Downing a little bioactive carbon each day will speed up your natural detox.
2. Support your body's own detox processes
Start your journey to optimal energy right where you're at: with your own body's protective resources and mechanisms.
You have a couple of ways your body renders toxins less potent and filters them out for elimination:
- Digestive system
Liver & kidneys (11, 12)
Immune system (13)
For tens of thousands of years, our liver and kidneys along with our immune system performed their detoxification work without much extra effort.
Today it's a different story.
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 (14) and everything from prescription drugs to plastics. (15, 16)
Human evolution can't keep up with internal detoxification of so many synthetic chemicals. Your natural detoxification methods would benefit from a boost so that they can handle all the exposure to additional chemical challenges.
Removal of toxins is essential for optimal energy. Until we do so, our mitochondria won't function at their peak.
Here's where your own interventions can enhance your mitochondrial efforts!
First, 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 major vitamins and minerals needed for energy production.)
Second, spread some love to your mitochondria in the form of biomolecular oxygen. As stabilized oxygen in liquid form, biomolecular oxygen will make sure your mitochondria get plenty of the oxygen essential for energy generation. (Remember: It's food + O2 that drives cellular respiration.)
It's a winning strategy, don't you think?
3. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself or consume tasteless meals!
In fact, a wide variety of nutritious foods like those listed below will nourish your body and your soul.
Here’s a lineup of the best food choices to minimize chronic inflammation while you maximize robust health. Please use as a general guide only. (17, 7)
- Leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards)
- Brightly-colored vegetables (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
- Good-for-you fats
- Coconut oil
- Wild-caught salmon
- Grass-fed meats
- Organ meats
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
The veggies supply antioxidants essential to reducing the oxidative stress caused by the free radical byproducts of ATP formation.
The fats provide a high-energy fuel source for your mitochondria to function optimally.
The fish and meats contribute healthy doses of brain-fortifying omega-3 fatty acids.
Score! They all promote healthy microbiota. Chemical cross-talk between happy gut microbes and your mitochondria keeps those little “mitos” optimally fit for ATP production. (18)
Want to go the extra mile nutritionally? Try to restrict calorie intake through intermittent fasting periodically. Your bio-batteries will thrive. (19) If you've tried it, you can attest that your energy levels respond favorably!
4. Stay hydrated with lots of clean, pure water
Remember how we mentioned the liquidy cytoplasm as the spot where cellular respiration kicks off? That's a nutrient-rich H2O sac. Then when the cellular respiratory action moves to the mitochondria, all the complex chemical reactions ongoing in the energy pathway occur in water. So, replenish the water your cells absolutely cannot do without by drinking plenty of it every day.
Another reason to drinks lots of fluids is to keep the drainage pathways clear & open so your body can eliminate harmful toxins. (20) The flushing action of water cannot be emphasized enough as a sure-fire way to rev up your engine.
5. Move more intensely
Brisk walking, running, and weight training are all good. Even better is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). (21) 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.”
Then repeat the sequence. 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. (22) This revs up the little power plants! Are you brave enough to attempt HIIT in the winter? Try it! You may like it.
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. (23) Have you ever heard of the glymphatic system? (24) It's like the trash can of the brain rounding up noggin toxins while we sleep.
When we don't get enough high-quality sleep, toxins build up preventing mitochondria from functioning optimally. So make sure you get 40 winks plus a whole lot more every night!
7. Promote energy production with supplements
At several points in the complex energy-making process, mitochondria need important substances to keep stoking the metabolic fire. (25) Called cofactors and coenzymes, only tiny bits are required.
Thus, their collective name: micronutrients.
But please don’t think that since so little is required, they won’t be missed if your diet is deficient in any one of them.
They will not only 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 or may even grind to a halt.
Then mitochondrial dysfunction sets in. This manifests in 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 supplement to keep your mito-energy factories working at high capacity.
Most are needed in very small amounts. (Micronutrients, remember?)
- B vitamins, especially
B2 (riboflavin) (29)
B3 (niacin) (25)
Methylated B9 (folate) (30)
Methylated B12 (cobalamin) (30)
Vitamin C (25)
Surprised to learn that many of the foods listed above in #3 are sky-high in these micronutrients? Some are their #1 sources.
For example, 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 broccoli aren’t too far behind!
It's A No Brainer
This 7-point list look familiar?
- Remove Toxins
- Support Detox Systems
- Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
- Stay Hydrated
- Move More Intensely
- Get Good Sleep
- Promote Energy Production
All seven are important when it comes to your own self-care. Doing so is key to your good health.
But these seven keys go way beyond mere cosmetic pampering.
Each of the methods of shifting your “mitos” into high gear is essential to excellent health.
It's not as complicated nor as long and involved as you might think. 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.