Mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the hallmarks of aging. Research from the School of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University shows we make fewer mitochondria as we age.
Our mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. They produce 90% of our cell’s energy needs. Without mitochondria, we would not be the complex organisms we are today. The energy they produce is essential to all of our bodily functions on the cellular level.
Here are the main things you can do to support your mitochondrial health in order to help counteract the cellular effects of stress and time.
When you exercise, your body uses cellular energy to make your muscles contract. Every cell in your skeletal muscles contain thousands of mitochondria.
Your body first uses stored cellular energy in your muscle cells. According to the Science Learning Hub, this energy stored for exercise only lasts three seconds.
Then your muscle cells use their first system of metabolism, also known as the phosphagen system. The phosphagen system breaks down stored phosphocreatine to generate more cellular energy.
However, this second source will only produce enough energy to last another eight to ten seconds.
At that point, your muscle cells run out of phosphocreatine, so they switch to the second system of metabolism known as the anaerobic glycolysis system. Your cells start to use large stores of carbohydrates stored in the body to rapidly make more cellular energy. What makes this process unique is that this process does not use any oxygen.
The energy produced lasts roughly 90 seconds, providing just enough for anaerobic workouts like lifting weights or sprinting.
If your body still needs more cellular energy, the third system of metabolism known as aerobic respiration starts to kick in. Aerobic respiration uses oxygen to break down your body’s glucose reserves created from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
This system is reserved for moments when the body needs to endure a longer-lasting activity. This is why extended exercises like power walking, running, jogging, dancing, swimming, biking, tennis, basketball, or any other sport are called aerobic workouts.
As you can see, exercise demands a lot of cellular energy, and your mitochondria are responsible for creating these energy stores. Although exercise puts stress on your mitochondrial system, increasing your energy demand from exercise could actually help your mitochondrial health.
A study by David A. Hood from York University shows that exercise can promote mitochondrial biogenesis.
Mitochondrial biogenesis is a self-replication process in which your mitochondria clone themselves to meet the energy demand. In other words, a workout stimulates your body to create more mitochondria in your skeletal muscle cells.
The more mitochondria you have, the more efficient your cells operate which promotes positive effects on your overall health.
Reduce the number of free radicals.
During the metabolic process to create cellular energy, mitochondria produce a byproduct—reactive oxygen species (ROS) or better known as free radicals. When your body needs a lot of energy, your mitochondria kick into overdrive, producing more ATP and generating even more free radicals.
Under normal circumstances, your body naturally produces enough antioxidant enzymes to neutralize most free radicals. But if your body produces too many free radicals and an insufficient supply of antioxidants to counteract them, an imbalance—called oxidative stress—allows free radicals to damage your cells, giving rise to disease and theoretically speeding up aging.
Reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, are just what their name implies—highly reactive. They swiftly interact with cellular molecules, chemically altering the composition of the molecules and ultimately changing their function. A high level of oxidative stress can cause mitochondrial damage. And damaged mitochondria become less and less efficient at generating energy.
The less efficient mitochondria become, the more free radicals they tend to produce, creating a vicious cycle that further damages your mitochondria.
How do you reduce the number of free radicals?
1. Drink less alcohol. Your cells generate excess free radicals whenever you drink too much alcohol. The influx of alcohol can throw your cells into a state of metabolic stress, forcing them to shift into overdrive to metabolize those extra molecules.
2. Avoid sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. These foods spike your blood sugar and contribute to your cells generating excess free radicals. A study published in the Journal of Lipid Research states that a ketogenic diet can decrease the number of free radicals created by the mitochondria.
3. Avoid getting sick. Research shows that viral infections can lower your NAD+ levels, a critical coenzyme for mitochondrial health, by up to 80% as your body expends immense energy to try to fight off the foreign invader.
4. Practice caloric restriction. A study published in Experimental Gerontology pronounced several benefits fasting has on your mitochondria, including reducing free radicals.
5. Consume foods that are high in antioxidants. It should come as no surprise that the best way to combat “reactive oxygen species” is to consume their counterpart, antioxidants. Antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q10 are key to protecting your mitochondria from free radicals. These can often be found in regular food. Diets rich in colorful fruits, vegetables, and other foods containing high levels of vitamin E, vitamin C, and other antioxidants lower the risk of oxidative cell damage. Typically a good rule to follow is “the more colorful the diet, the better”.
6. Consume Omega-3. A study published in the Journal of Physiology shows that Omega-3 can help refortify your mitochondrial membranes. A stronger mitochondrial membrane means that your cells are better protected against all the damage free radicals could potentially do within the mitochondrial walls. Foods such as fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds are rich in omega-3.
7. Take a mitochondrial supplement. Sometimes, it’s difficult to get the necessary micronutrients needed to protect your mitochondria. Mitochondrial support supplements are a great way to support your mitochondria to boost a healthy diet and exercise. Several mitochondrial supplements are available on the market.
Your mitochondria are a vital source of cellular energy for all the daily functions that happen within the cell. Providing mitochondrial support is one of the best ways to support a healthy lifestyle.