When it comes to energy production in the body, the health of your mitochondria is among the most important thing. But how do you know if your mitochondria are healthy? What is a mitochondria anyway? And what would cause it not to be healthy? If it is unhealthy, how do I help it become healthy again? These would be great foundational questions in response to a blog about Mitochondrial Dysfunction but there are bigger things at stake than energy production alone. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a key player in almost every potential disease process. If its not the cause it is at the very least an area in which gives a great place to support healing while continuing to look for the root cause.
What is a Mitochondria?
Mitochondria is actually the plural word for mitochondrion. A mitochondrion is an organelle that is found in nearly every cell in the human body and is responsible for ATP production. ATP = Adenosine Triphosphate = the energy source that fuels almost everything that pertains to life inside our bodies. They have been described as the "powerhouse of the cell" and the "mighty mitochondria" as some of you may remember from elementary school drawing pictures of cells with muscles. They are actually pretty cool looking organelles if you do a few google searches. Mitochondria are highly condensed in certain parts of the body that have high demand for energy production like the brain, lungs, heart, muscle, liver, nerves and retina to name a few.
How Do They Make Energy?
Mitochondria produce energy in a very productive and efficient manner in what is called the Krebs or Citric Acid Cycle. It is an amazing process that is dependent on many nutrients and cofactors to function optimally. When it is functioning like it was created to, it is a beautiful thing but when the mitochondria get sick, bad things happen.
What Could Cause Sick Mitochondria?
An obvious cause from the picture above is a lack of essential nutrients for the cycle to run optimally. In other words, poor gut function (dysbiosis, intestinal permeability, SIBO, parasites, bacteria, viruses, yeast overgrowth, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency) or poor dietary intake. So we could be starving our mitochondria by just not eating enough nutrient dense foods. Heavy metals are another cause and I've seen elevation in heavy metals in the blood more frequently than not. This goes back to allostatic load and the false medical notion that small amounts of toxins are no worries even if they are chronic like mercury amalgams (i.e. silver fillings), aluminum from vaccines, or even lead from pipes and old paint. If our detox pathways are already hindered from whatever reason, then our allostatic load easily overflows leading to poisoned mitochondria and poor ATP (energy) production. Certain medications have been designated as "MitoToxic!" Check out this partial list of common prescription medications that can poison your mitochondria.
- anxiety medications
- cholesterol medications
- anti-inflammatories (aspirin, NSAIDS, tylenol...)
- Certain antibiotic classes
- cancer medications ( doxorubicine, cis-platinum, tamoxifen)
- beta blockers (blood pressure medication)
What Happens When Mitochondria Get Sick?
Energy production obviously goes down so fatigue can be an early indicator of poor mitochondrial function. However the snowball effect from sick mitochondia is significant. All of your body systems and processes that occur every second are dependent on ATP. If there is a decrease in production our immune system takes a dive as does the health of our cardiovascular and nervous system. There really isn't a place this doesn't affect your body. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated in some pretty significant disease processes like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington, ALS, blindness, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren's, Lupus, Diabetes and Autism. Again, this is a partial list. Focusing on mitochondrial restoration is even at the heart of some of the newest cutting edge cancer therapies focusing on ketogenic diets and intermittent fasting and nutraceutical support.
How Do I Know if My Mitochondria Are Sick?
Testing is a great way. If you are experiencing any of the disease processes above or just struggling with energy, focus, or any weird neurological issues, get tested. The test we use in clinical practice is a Comprehensive Organic Acids profile by Genova. Other labs do this test too but Genova has been consistently accurate and reliable. It shows much more than mitochondrial health but it is a great place to start to see if this may be an underlying issue for you. Most functional medicine providers will be pretty well versed in how to interpret these tests and what to do with the results. Here is an example of mitochondrial dysfunction proven in a young patient with early breast cancer.
How to Support Mitochondrial Health and ATP Production
If you have found this on a test you will want to work hand in hand with your functional medicine practitioner to discover all of the ways to bring your mitochondrial health back up to par. It may be removing toxins, killing pathogens, supporting HPA health, dietary changes, sleep habits or all of the above. In every mitochondrial support process it is wise to have a heavy hitting mitochondrial cocktail of nutrients that support the entire Kreb's cycle. One of the best products I have found is made by Orthomolecular Products called MitoCore. The clinical trial behind MitoCore's formulation is pretty phenomenal and showed that high doses of some key nutrients could improve CD4 counts in immune-suppressed HIV patients in as few as 6 weeks. Please email me if you'd like a link to that information. Very interesting. A potent supplement like MitoCore is a great addition to any mitochondrial dysfunction.
Can You Supplement Without Labs Showing Mitochondrial Issues?
Most of the time, yes. A few caveats are that these supplements combined have never been studied in pregnant or nursing mothers or kids as expected. Therefore they should be avoided in those cases. Otherwise, a month trial of a mitochondrial support product like MitoCore is a low risk option to see if energy is improved. It may point to a deeper cause and you really should get with a trusted functional medicine practitioner and get some testing done alongside your General Practitioner screenings. We carry MitoCore on our online store if you are interested in trying it out. Shipping should be free. Use the registration code SLW817-01 and give MitoCore a couple months to see how your body responds. Start with the recommended dose. Some people with significant mitochondrial dysfunction do end up taking twice the recommended dose. Email me with any questions about dosing.
- SLW Online Store (registration code SLW817-01
- Video Series on Dr Kaiser's clinical trial with HIV patients