Say it loud, say it proud, say it together: the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. We’ll always remember this phrase from biology class, and for good reason. Cellular function, and therefore anytime we move our body or even think, is contingent on our mitochondria successfully converting food into chemical energy called ATP that our cells can use. Different cells have different levels of mitochondria present, depending on how much energy they use. Our muscles and kidneys are teeming with mitochondria since they’re always so busy! So, mitochondria really do live up to their famous reputation. But they also do so much more. By converting food into energy, mitochondria release heat - thereby keeping our bodies running at a cozy 98.6°F and maintaining our metabolism. Additionally, they store calcium ions and engage in a sort of cellular clean-up by helping to facilitate apoptosis, the process of naturally programmed cellular “death” for cells. Calling mitochondria a simple powerhouse almost sells them short!
Since mitochondria are so vital to everyday living, taking steps to improve mitochondrial function is a smart way to naturally boost energy, and can improve immunity and overall well being. One way to boost mitochondrial function is by engaging in healthy eating practices, particularly through calorie restriction and intermittent fasting. These terms might sound scarier than they really are, calorie restriction essentially means staying within a common-sense, healthy calorie range. Excessive calorie consumption can result in obesity and heightened levels of inflammation, which causes our mitochondria to produce an excess of reactive oxygen species (ROS) to compensate. Too much ROS results in cellular damage due to oxidative stress. So we avoid high-calorie foods and too much snacking for your mitochondria’s sake! Likewise, a daily practice of intermittent fasting involves eating just 2 or 3 meals a day within an 8-hour window. The 16 hours of fasting for the rest of the day (much of which happens during sleep) manipulates our mitochondrial networks to our advantage. It’s like a cellular reset, the closest we can get to unplugging your mitochondria and plugging ‘em back in.
Frequent physical exercise can further improve mitochondrial health. If we don’t burn calories each day or use up stored oxygen, our mitochondria will grow bored and sluggish. There’s no better way to increase our body's daily oxygen cycle than through aerobic exercise, and our mitochondria’s Krebs cycle needs fresh air to function. As such, we like to incorporate a variety of physical activity into our week - aerobics, strength training, core exercises, and daily stretching. Mitigating stress through meditation and mindfulness can further improve mitochondrial function. Stress hormones negatively alter mitochondrial function, especially in our body's immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. Chilling out is good for you too!
Furthermore, supplements like CoQ10 and Omega-3 Fatty Acid have been shown to improve mitochondrial function.CoQ10 facilitates movement within the cellular electron-transport chain and prevents mitochondrial oxidative damage. Our bodies naturally produce CoQ10, and it’s present in many foods that we eat. Even still, supplementation has proven beneficial for many. Additionally, research shows that Omega-3 (naturally abundant in fish and walnuts) positively impacts the composition of mitochondrial membranes and enhances cellular ADP sensitivity.
Our mitochondria are numerous and critically important to our body's daily function. Taking care of them through diet, exercise, and mindfulness can help us become healthier and energetic. Mitochondria are powerhouses, but they make their home in our bodies. If we’re good hosts and treat them right, they’ll pay us back in good clean energy! That’s a pretty nifty arrangement.