Mitochondria (my-toe-KON-dree-ah) is the part of each and every cell that makes energy, and also controls the normal cell life cycle. While it's working, the cell lives on. When it dysfunctions or signals, the cell dies.
Research is starting to focus more and more onto this part of the cell for a variety of different health conditions, including heart disease, fibromyalgia, neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Autism spectrum, and even normal aging processes. It is thought that dysfunction of mitochondria is one of the main reasons we age!
What Causes Dysfunction?
Main causes of mitochondrial dysfunction include:
- Mitochondrial disease
- Environmental toxicity, including poor food choices, alcohol, or stress all cause an increase in "Free Radicals" which are really reactive molecules that run around and damage
- Infection from certain gut bugs, such as clostridia spp.
- Exposure to certain drugs such as methotrexate, or in utero (such as valproic acid)
Symptoms of Dysfunction
As the mitochondria produce energy, dysfunction is most obvious in areas that use up tons of energy
- Brain - foggy thoughts, poor memory, migraines, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, seizures, etc...
- Digestion - constipation (inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, NSAID-induced injury, chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction), cyclic vomoting syndrome, liver dysfunction (cirrhosis, alcohol-induced damage), pancreatic dysfunction (including type 2 diabetes)
- Nerves - poor vision, numbness, pins and needles
- Muscles - easily fatigued, tender to touch or even painful
- Immune system
Mitochondria & Autism:
I couldn't help but add a little info here as this is my passion. At least 50% of those on the autistic spectrum have mitochondrial dysfunction, with some studies citing numbers up to 80%. When the mitochondria malfunction, cells such as those in the brain don't function properly. It's hard to put a pin point on it because research is still emerging, and because mitochondria are literally in every cell making the issue ubiquitous. However, the research that has been done so far is showing that:
- More severe behavioural and cognitive disabilities than those on the spectrum without - so more mood issues, poorer communication, etc.
- Prone to neurodevelopmental regression
There are a few different ways to support the proper function of the mitochondria
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is a main player in the ability of the mitochondria to actually make energy (in the form of ATP). CoQ10 also acts to destroy free radicals, which are molecules that run around cause damage until they are neutralized. Research has shown that supplementing with CoQ10 protects tissue from DNA damage, increases lifespan, supports heart muscle for proper function, and boosts energy production.
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): this B vitamin helps with some of the steps that the mitochondria takes to turn fatty acids into ATP, making it an essential part of your diet and supplement regimen.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): Research has shown this B vitamin can slow down mitochondrial diseases, but also the signs of aging. More energy-production molecules are made from B3, again aiding in overal increased levels of ATP.
- L-Carnitine: This is the 'gate-keeper' of the mitochondria, letting in fatty acids to be used as fuel. When this is low, nothing can get in and energy production plummets!
- Alpha lipoic acid: Research shows that this mitochondrial nutrient improves age-associated memory decline, improves mitochondrial structure and function, reduces normal aging damage of cells. When combined with L-Carnitine and CoQ10, even more cognitive improvements have been seen. Great option for the aging population!