What Is Mitochondrial Function?
In the average cell of your body, there are 100 to 500 mitochondria – power plants that churn out energy and support everyday tasks like walking, working, talking and more. To function properly, cells need energy and mitochondria provide it in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It’s therefore important to increase mitochondrial function for good health.
In addition to acting as batteries for your body, mitochondria are also responsible for programmed cell death. If a cell is acting abnormally, mitochondria release a special chemical known as cytochrome C which triggers programmed cell death and ensures your body remains healthy.
As you can see, mitochondria are critical for the normal functioning of the body. As we age, though, we tend to experience a significant decrease in mitochondrial function. In turn, this impairs the body’s capacity to produce energy.
If the mitochondria are damaged, whether by aging or disease, you may experience a range of symptoms such as muscle weakness, cramping, muscle pain, eyelid drooping, double vision or trouble focusing.
Because the mitochondrial function is critical to the normal functioning of the brain (your brain consumes 20% of the total energy produced), damaged mitochondria can lead to mental health impairments, anxiety, depression, seizures, atypical migraines, and strokes.
How Important To Health Is Mitochondrial Function?
In simple terms, your body needs energy to function and the ultimate loss of energy results in death. Mitochondria are the tiny factories in your cells that are solely responsible for turning nutrients and oxygen into energy which makes them invaluable.
What’s more, when you fuel your mitochondria, you also improve your immune system. These tiny power plants provide energy for your muscles and brain, nerves and every system in your body, including immune cells such as the T-cells and the lymphocytes.
Often, mitochondria are at the forefront when there’s cellular danger present and ensure we’re protected against viruses and bacteria. The more energy your body has, the quicker your immune response will be.
Unsurprisingly, mitochondrial disorders also tend to go hand-in-hand with immune deficiencies as well as chronic fatigue syndrome. There is evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is present in some chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers.
What Damages Mitochondrial Function?
The problem is that mitochondria are extremely sensitive to damage. If you’re experiencing symptoms of muscle weakness or cramping, loss of reflexes, sensations of pins and needles in your skin, or gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, constipation and irritable bowels, you might have caused damage to the power plants in your cells, and the main culprit could be your diet.
Similarly, if you are suffering from the many symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome mitochondrial dysfunction could be contributing to your illness.
A recent study by the Yale School of Medicine found that sudden spikes in blood sugar levels (such as caused by a sugary snack or processed food) can cause alterations in the mitochondrial functions. What’s more, the changes could be crucial to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, in which the body is unable to clear the high sugar levels from the blood.
Mitochondrial damage is still poorly understood but studies have shown that mitochondrial function can be impaired if you consume too much processed food, artificial sweeteners or sugary snacks, as well as chemical food additives.
Additionally, certain medications such as barbiturates, some types of anti-anxiety meds and anti psychotics can also impair the normal functioning of mitochondria.
How To Know If You Have Mitochondrial Damage
The easiest way is through a blood test measuring the levels of lactate in the blood. When mitochondria break down glucose and fat to produce energy, they also release a natural by-product: lactate.
Lactate is responsible for the sore feeling in your muscles after a challenging workout (caused by the build-up of lactic acid). However, if mitochondria are damaged, this could lead to over-accumulation of lactic acid or lactic acidosis. Painful muscle aches are a common symptom found in chronic fatigue sufferers.
Other symptoms of mitochondrial damage include severe fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, rapid weight loss, tingling and numbness in the muscles, as well as rapid and progressive muscle weakness.
What Can You Do Naturally To Improve Mitochondrial Function?
The good news is that the damage to your mitochondrial function is reversible. You can introduce certain lifestyle changes, such as a better diet and more exercise (if your particular stage of chronic fatigue syndrome allows for it).
Eating fewer calories than your body burns will not only help you stay fit and lose weight but will have a positive effect on your mitochondria. The less food you consume, the more efficiently mitochondria can remove the harmful free radicals that accumulate in the body.
When you decrease the energy levels in the body, the levels of NAD+ increase, which makes mitochondria produce ATP more readily. Similarly, exercising can deplete energy from the cells which also improves mitochondrial function.
It’s also best to avoid artificial sweeteners, sugars, and processed food as all these cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels which can be deadly to the mitochondria. Certain diets that are lower in carbohydrates but rich in anti inflammatory foods have been shown to lead to improved mitochondrial function and overall, greater cellular health.
Eat small meals often and include plenty of nutrients such as B vitamins, electrolytes and trace minerals to help with energy production.
Mitochondria are the power plants of the cell. They’re solely responsible for transforming glucose from food and oxygen into energy that powers every process in the human body. Eating a poor diet rich in carbs and sugars can damage the normal mitochondrial function and cause a range of symptoms such as muscle weakness and abnormalities, difficulties concentrating, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues.
Maintaining your mitochondria’s health is crucial to ensure your body can function normally and you feel healthy and energized. Cut out processed food, sugars, and artificial additives from your diet and make sure you get plenty of gentle exercise and your body will be thankful.
Putting It All Together
If mitochondrial dysfunction is part of your chronic fatigue syndrome, work to improve it. Stay hydrated and eat a nutrient dense anti inflammatory diet. Some high quality supplements that can help include a multivitamin complex including B vitamins, an antioxidant like vitamin C and CoQ10 for energy production.
Please let me know if you have any queries and feel free to leave a comment.