The Importance of Mitochondrial Health
Mitochondria are organelles that apart from red blood cells, exist in mind boggling numbers throughout our bodies. Mitochondria, which are responsible for providing energy for the body, vary in number according to the different types of cells in the body. The largest concentration of mitochondria is in our brain, neurons, and heart where there could be thousands of mitochondria in each cell providing energy needed for cognition and movement. It is estimated that we have 250 quadrillion mitochondria in us and that mitochondria make up about 20% of our body weight. Additionally, our immune system depends on mitochondrial health to have the energy to defeat infections that arise from time to time. Persistent infections are a likely sign that the immune system lacks the energy to recover even when healing procedures are administered. There is abundant evidence that damaged or diminished mitochondrial functionality is a key reason for the onset of almost every degenerative disease we commonly hear about along with an accelerated or normal decline in aging.
Much like our electric grid supplies power to our city and homes, the mitochondria’s ability to supply power and energy for our daily tasks is of great importance in all aspects of our health. With increased demand in our homes, the electric grid will increase power through its own methods such as burning more oil or coal or the use of newer sources of power such as wind and solar. In our bodies the mitochondria which have their own DNA, can multiply themselves to do the same thing assuming there is a good fuel source to produce energy from. In the electric grid, power generators can break, or become incapacitated for various reasons such as storms and electric blackouts can occur. In a similar way, insufficient nutrition, persistent infections, toxic chemical exposure can shut down our own power plants, the mitochondria, and we feel fatigue, brain fog, depression, have memory problems, weight gain, and heart symptoms, etc.
At rest our bodies generate the power equivalent of seven 110-watt bulbs and most of that energy is coming from our mitochondria. The mitochondria take the fat, protein, and carbohydrates from our food and combine it with oxygen to produce energy in the form of ATP (Adenine Triphosphate) for our cells and tissues. ATP is made with the Krebs Cycle during a process called oxidative phosphorylation involving the electron transport chain. Along the inner membrane of the mitochondria a series of enzymes takes two electron donors each from FADH2 and NADH in the Krebs Cycle. The FADH2 and NADH lose their hydrogen (from dehydrogenase enzymes) in the electron transport chain and passes those hydrogen molecules across a membrane. When the electrons finally reach an enzyme: ATP synthase, the electrons are added to ADP to form ATP. It also takes the hydrogen molecules that built up across the membrane and combines it with oxygen (O2), to make water molecules (H2O). Oxidative phosphorylation should ideally produce 30-36 molecules of ATP for every molecule of glucose. This is far superior to the anerobic process (without oxygen) of glycolysis where only 2 molecules of ATP would be produced from every molecule of glucose. The diagram below simplifies this incredibly complex process, and the importance of oxygen in energy production should be easy to see. Oxidative phosphorylation is clearly more efficient than glycolysis for energy production in the human body. No wonder the best way to improve mitochondria function is exercise where breathing more oxygen is necessary.
Mitochondria have their own DNA that is separate from the nuclear DNA which gives us our physical characteristics. While mitochondrial DNA can replicate itself like nuclear DNA, like all genetic material it is susceptible to defects in that process due to either genetic faults, or environmental stressors resulting in either damaged mitochondria, or just time itself. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to child. You do not have any mitochondrial DNA from your father. It is strongly believed by scientists that around 2 billion years ago, when plants began to proliferate on earth, gradually changing the high carbon dioxide atmospheric environment to a higher oxygen environment, pressure was put on some organisms that relied on fermentation for energy to use bacteria called alpha-proteobacteria to help them to adapt to the higher oxygen levels in the atmosphere. This mutually beneficial adaptation has lasted until today in all animal life. One of these bacteria Rickettsia prowazekii is still around today and if we analyze its DNA, it is very similar to the DNA we see in mitochondria.
Nuclear DNA is in a double helix shape and mitochondrial DNA is circular like the DNA of the Rickettsia prowazekii. Mitochondria have a double membrane like it too. The DNA is very similar between mitochondria and Rickettsia, but smaller in mitochondria due to the donation of information to the nucleus. A breakdown of the donation of information or communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus is believed to be the first step in the aging process. Harvard Professor of Genetics David Sinclair likens these two organelles to a married couple where a breakdown in communication is the first step to problems. Sinclair’s research with the use of a supplement N.A.D. has been shown to reverse this aging process in mice. N.A.D is nicotinamide adenosine dinucleotide, and it is a molecule derived from vitamin B3 (niacin).
There are dozens of supplement companies that claim to have the best way to increase N.A.D. There are other products that also claim to increase mitochondrial function too. They all seem to have merit. I think I will have to delve into that in another newsletter devoted to that subject.
I have long been interested in ways of improving mitochondrial health. That is why I have the EWOT system in the office, and last year started using PEMF on some patients who I thought would benefit from it. Both therapies have been researched to show improvement in mitochondrial health. EWOT for systemic issues and PEMF for a more localized area. When patients ask what does EWOT and PEMF do and I reply it increases mitochondrial function, I usually get a blank stare. Hopefully this information helps. As I research more supplements and therapies to address this important aspect of health, I will pass along the information that I think is most valuable.