Empower yourself. Cellularly speaking.

Let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive into the amazing world of cellular function. I’ll try not to get too nerdy here but no promises. Billions of years ago, when life on earth was still just evolving a little bacterial cell was ingested into a larger cell that billions of years later became a human. It was called Luca – or Last Universal Common Ancestor. Inside all of our cells (except for red blood cells to be exact) lives a cellular component called mitochondria.

This was the bacterial cell thought to be ingested all those years ago. It allowed cells to step up their game big time. You guys will hear me talk about this A LOT so just warning you… This is affectionately known in every high school science class as the powerhouse of the cell. And it is. It allows for our cells to thrive, survive, and even die appropriately.

Inappropriate cell death can cause inflammation, tissue damage, and chronic illness. More on that later when we talk about cellular senescence. Mitochondria are a hot topic in the world of cellular optimization, anti-aging medicine, and the science of longevity. When we stress our mitochondria appropriately through nutritional fasting and exercise, their resilience factor grows. They become MORE efficient at their energy production techniques and often will grow in numbers, making our bodies more efficient at doing the same activity the next time around. SO cool. I’m truly obsessed with this concept. Lastly, mito have their own DNA. It is inherited from your mom only. Sorry dads. Thus genetic patterns of inheritance can play a role, but to a lesser extent that lifestyle, with rare exceptions.

Healthy mitochondria are an essential to power our brain and body. Healthy hormone function requires efficient mitochondria in our ovaries, testicles, thyroid, and other glandular tissues. Our metabolism requires productive mitochondrial function to keep our lean tissue active and blood sugar balanced. Our skin cells glow when our mito are happy. It’s hard to argue against the most important part of mitochondrial function is in our nervous system, powering our neurons among other neurological cells to functional at a high level. Chronic headaches, concentration deficits, fatigue, and other neurodegenerative conditions can all be associated with declines in mitochondrial function.

Mitochondria depend on special regulators called sirtuins. Sirtuins have a growing role for cancer prevention, protection against type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, reduce inflammation, and even prevent hearing loss (PMID: 23454760). In regards to the recent literature it appears SIRT6 should be the favorite of all the sirtuins for its role in actual lifespan extension (in animals).

Testing in the lab for mitochondrial dysfunction is slightly complex for there is not a great blood test to tell us their productivity and health status. Invasive biopsies may offer more insight but would be impractical in commercial clinical medicine. Standard laboratory work-up can offer some insight when looking at surrogate markers of mitochondrial metabolic function but can be short-sighted at times. My preference to look for mitochondrial dysfunction ultimately lies in the access to comprehensive lab testing I have as a Functional Medicine physician. I love the Ion Panel by Genova Diagnostics (no financial affiliation) and hear rumors of a panel coming out UCLA that offers a more direct insight into functional or dysfunctional mitochondria. Stay tuned.

In order to be powerful, sexy, and beautiful we need to ensure our mitochondria are nourished appropriately.

Mitochondria and Nutrition

Bright colors are the name of the game here. Berries, leafy greens, and omega 3 and omega 9 rich fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are essentials. If you don’t mind liver (there are some tasty recipes!) and wild game meats can be wonderful sources of carnitine, COQ10 nutrients essentials for mitochondrial function.

Intermittent fasting, fasting mimicking programs, and alternate day fasting are also supportive for mitochondria. We’ll talk about these in a separate blog but for now, know that intermittent fasting is probably one of the best things you can do for your mitochondrial, clearing cells that no longer serve us, and support metabolism. Fasting window between 16-18 hours typically has demonstrated some of the best results.

Mitochondria and Exercise

Mito respond beautifully to exercise, if the body is able to repair and regenerate. Exercise helps to stress the mitochondria which makes them become more efficient and increase in numbers. All good things. Over-exercising can lead to damage to the cells, ultimately not allowing for the essential repair of the tissue and creating micro-traumas. Under-exercising (sedentary behavior) leads to complacency of the mitochondria and can increase their chance of entering a latent state becoming less functional and productive. Here’s a fancy term for you – mitohormesis. Stress to the cell through fasting, exercise, or therapeutic cold exposure can help support the mito and make them better than ever. This is your ‘tough love’ situation. Sometimes the only way we get stronger is going through some hurdles in life. Our mitochondria aren’t that different.

Mitochondria and Supplements: The basics

COQ10, probably the best known mitochondrial support product and for good reason. It is a component inside the mito that makes ATP (energy) for the cell. Without COQ10 all would be lost. Fortunately, for us, our body can synthesize it, however that production is inadequate or we take medications (statins) that decrease production, supplementation is advised. We see COQ10 as a foundational supplement in fertility optimization, neurological support, and chronic fatigue symptoms.

Nicotinamide riboside (NR) or nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) are both commercially available supplements known to increase sirtuins. Dosage is variable but between 500mg-1000mg daily is a good range to shoot for.

Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant and an activator of sirtuins, which help to repair damage to the mitochondria. It helps to neutralize damage to cells and increase the function of the mitochondria to produce energy. 250mg to 500mg gives a therapeutic dose.

Berberine is a compound that helps with microbial gut balance AND supports blood sugar regulation. As we will discuss, healthy blood sugar is essential for healthy mito. Dosages range depending on tolerance between 500-1500mg per day, in divided doses.

Sleep for Mito Repair

Mito and the rest of the organ tissues, but especially the brain, do the most of their repair at night when we are in a resting state. The janitors of our cells come out and start to sweep up the dust from the day. Without regular, adequate, restful sleep we cannot function at our optimal capacity. Our bodies can’t perform as well and our emotions are all over the place. Getting a minimum of 7 hours nightly of restful sleep for adults is critical for these clean-up crews to get through their work.

As an aside, meditation practice has also been shown to support similar mitochondrial regeneration even without being in a sleep state. This is only 1 of hundreds of benefits we know of that meditation practices offers our brains and their cellular components.

Powerful women have Powerful Brains and Bodies

By supporting our mitochondria our power systems upregulate in all organ tissues. Blood flow increases, memory improves, and so does our output of energy. We are more motivated to get up early for an exercise workout, finish what we need to do for work, and still have sexual energy for ourselves (and our partners, if we wish) after the kids go to bed. When we feel like a boss, we act like a boss. When we neglect our bodies, our brains deteriorate too. Empowerment comes from our mind-body connection. We can’t neglect one and expect the other to pick up the slack.

Meditate. Sleep. Eat nutritious food. Be a boss. Repeat.

Writer: Michelle Leary
Writer: Michelle Leary
December 9, 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes