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Exhausted? Blame your Mitochondria

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

In our blog on Chronic COVID & the Brain, we gave an overview on chronic COVID-19 and the importance of mitochondrial health. But the importance of mitochondrial health goes far beyond chronic COVID. Poor mitochondrial health can be the root of some of your chronic symptoms (like fatigue) and diseases.

In this blog, we will delve into the importance of mitochondrial health and steps you can take to ensure your mitochondria are healthy and primed to support your body.

Mitochondria 101:

In middle school, we learn the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. The mitochondria are actually responsible for making over 90% of the body’s energy in the form of ATP. The process of creating ATP is very complex and involves five multi-subunit enzymes or complexes. Each process requires different chemical and nutritional components to function properly. If one ingredient is deficient or missing, the entire process will be disrupted.

But the role of the mitochondria within our body goes far beyond energy production. They also contribute to homeostasis, cell proliferation, cell death, and the synthesis of lipids, amino acids, and nucleotides. Mitochondria in the liver have been specialized to detoxify ammonia in the urea cycle. Synthesis of testosterone and estrogen and cholesterol and neurotransmitter metabolism are also reliant on mitochondria. Mitochondria are also essential for breaking down the fat, protein, and carbohydrates we eat and drink. The mitochondria even play a role in supporting immunity in the presence of a virus. Essentially, the mitochondria are essential for nearly every process in the body.

Mitochondrial damage:

Given the complex nature of mitochondrial function, it is unsurprising that mitochondrial damage is fairly common. The mitochondria are also known as the canaries in the coal mine within the body. They give off warning signs and early-stage effects that later lead to cell and organ toxicity.

Here are some of the main reasons behind mitochondrial deterioration:

  • Certain pharmaceutical drugs- Some pharmaceutical drugs, such as antibiotic treatment, have been linked to damaging mitochondria throughout the body. Mitochondria evolved from free-living, aerobic bacteria, causing them to be a target to antibacterial drugs.

  • Reactive oxygen species (ROS)- As the mitochondria produce ATP, they also produce ROS, which are harmful free radicals that can cause damage to the mitochondria and the rest of the body. Without proper antioxidant amounts in the body, ROS damage can be widespread.

  • Environmental factors- Toxins and heavy metals have all been linked to mitochondrial damage. Pesticides like rotenone and paraquat are widely recognized toxins that will cause mitochondrial damage. Heavy metals contain pro-inflammatory ions that can damage mitochondrial DNA and cause carcinogenesis and apoptosis.

  • Genetic factors- It requires around 3,000 genes to make a mitochondrion. Around one in 5,000 people have a genetic mitochondrial disease that impairs normal function. But about one in 200 people carry DNA mutations that can potentially lead to pathogenic mitochondria.

  • Aging- As we age, mitochondrial function declines, and the frequency of mitochondrial mutations increases. This decreased mitochondrial function can lead to an age-dependent decline in overall organ function. In a revealing study, a team of researchers showed that muscle tissue of a 90-year-old man contained 95% damaged mitochondria compared to almost no damage in that of a 5-year-old.

Symptoms of mitochondrial damage:

The most common sign of mitochondrial damage is fatigue. This fatigue will last for more than 6 months and be unaffected by sleep or dietary changes. But other signs and symptoms of early mitochondrial damage include:

  • Lack of endurance

  • Swallowing difficulties

  • Poor balance

  • Digestive problems

  • Muscle pain and weakness

  • Diminishing motor control

  • Visual/hearing problems

  • Seizures

Mitochondrial dysfunction is a characteristic of nearly every chronic disease:

  • Neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome

  • Autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, type I diabetes

  • Cardiovascular diseases: heart and vascular conditions like atherosclerosis

  • Cancer

  • Neurobehavioral and psychiatric diseases: autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mood disorders

  • Musculoskeletal diseases: fibromyalgia, skeletal muscle hypertrophy and atrophy

  • Chronic infections

Reversing mitochondrial damage:

Unfortunately, there is no magical cure to solve mitochondrial damage. However, there are several steps you can take to promote mitochondrial health:

  • Calorie restriction can be used to conserve existing mitochondrial and promote biogenesis which is the growth of new mitochondria.

  • Spermidine can also be taken to support mitochondrial health. This profoundly important nutrient promotes autophagy and a healthy immune system.

  • Exercise has proven to protect against mitochondrial decline. Physical fitness will maintain muscle mass which encourages the health and growth of your mitochondria.

  • Foods high in antioxidants can also prevent damage caused by ROS. Such foods include: raw cacao, berries, matcha, pecans, artichokes, beets, kale, and spinach. Anti-inflammatory foods like heart-healthy oils, fish, fruits, nuts, garlic, herbs, and chocolate can also be beneficial.

  • Limit your exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals. Eating food that is organic and using products that are BPA and phthalate-free will help limit your exposure to mitochondrial damaging toxins.

  • Taking molecular hydrogen daily will decrease the damaging free radicals that are produced with the increase in reactive oxygen species. This will decrease inflammation and protect the mitochondria from damage.

  • Taking PQQ will increase the replication of mitochondria supplying new and healthy organelles. PQQ was classified as an essential micronutrient.

In your journey to optimal health, Dr. Johnson is committed to exploring every potential solution. If you think you may be suffering from mitochondrial damage, click here to schedule your complimentary 15-minute discovery call with Dr. Johnson.

If you are interested in learning more about mitochondrial health or exploring potential supplemental solutions, click here to contact our office!

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!