Cells are the foundation of all living things.
Humans have over 30 trillion cells, working harmoniously to form complex structures called tissues. These tissues are what make up our organs, such as the heart, liver, skin, muscles, and the like.
Each type of human cell has unique features depending upon the tissue within which it resides and functions.
For example, heart cells have more mitochondria, also known as “powerhouses of the cell,” because of the heart’s unique energy demand.
Cellular health is a focus on these basic building blocks for the sole purpose of understanding the roots of our bodily function.
Rather than painting a broad stroke of our understanding of human health, cellular health is an idea that cellular nutrition is the key to maintaining our well-being.
Nutrition impacts your cells.
Each cell is composed of smaller parts, known as organelles. Like organs of the human body, each organelle serves a different function to keep the cell alive and healthy.
Your nutrition directly impacts each of these organelles and their ability to function on an optimal level. By looking at your cells, you can see how the adage “you are what you eat,” directly applies.
Let’s take a look at three organelles within the cell to demonstrate how certain kinds of nutrition influences your cells:
The Cell Membrane
What is the cell membrane?
Your cells are enveloped by a structural boundary, known as the cell membrane, to keep the cell’s inner machinery protected. This fortified wall is populated with several gatekeepers that allow certain nutrients to pass through and waste to be expelled.
What is it made of? Fats and proteins.
Healthy fats promote healthy cell membranes.
Contrary to old diet rules, you need fat. Since your cell membranes are made mostly of fat, a diet consisting of healthy fats is necessary to keep your cell membranes functioning.
Because of its non-water-soluble properties, fats are able to provide a barrier in your water-based bloodstream and tissue fluids. The fats provide your cell membrane its shape and structure.
To see this in real-world properties, observe how a drop of oil never mixes in a bowl of water.
Make sure to include fat in your diet but try to incorporate mostly unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are known as healthy fats and are commonly found in fish and nuts and best support your cell membranes.
Research identified in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that saturated and trans fats found in animal products and many processed foods, on the other hand, don’t provide the same benefit. A cell membrane built with saturated fats results in a more rigid form, whereas a healthy membrane is flexible and fluid.
Proteins build healthy “stations.”
The proteins that sit in the cell membrane are like stations. Some proteins serve the purpose of a communication station, transmitting messages to other cells.
Others serve the purpose of a docking station, attaching themselves to structures around them so they aren’t floating around. This ability is why the cells in your muscle tissue are able to adhere firmly to your bones.
And finally, certain proteins act as gateways, bringing in vital nutrients and expelling waste.
We need protein in our diet to help build these important “stations.”
What are the mitochondria?
The mitochondria are like cells within your cells. They have their own membrane, and they even have their own DNA.
However, unlike your cells and any other organelle’s membrane, the mitochondria have an inner membrane composed of up to 75% protein. The reason for this large concentration of proteins is because of their significant role in the mitochondria’s energy-creation process.
Mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell.” They provide all the energy your cells need. In order to create this energy, your mitochondria go through a series of chemical reactions to combine the nutrients you consume from food with the oxygen you breathe. This process is called cellular respiration.
B-vitamins promote healthy mitochondria.
Cellular respiration uses a multitude of vitamins and minerals, particularly the B-vitamins, to help yield energy. Because of their role in creating energy, the B-vitamins are often dubbed the energy vitamins. Foods like milk, legumes, leafy greens, organ meats, eggs and beef are good sources of B-vitamins.
Beware of free radicals.
Unfortunately, the energy produced by the mitochondria isn’t without consequences. Oxygen is a vital molecule needed for the mitochondria to create energy; however, oxygen is an incredibly powerful reactant that can cause problems for your cells.
During the mitochondria’s energy production, about 2% of oxygen escapes in the form of reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals. Free radicals can damage your DNA, proteins, and membranes.
Eat your antioxidants.
Luckily, there are enzymes and molecules in your cells to help counter these free radicals called antioxidants. Make sure to eat foods rich in antioxidants in order to combat those pesky free radicals. Foods like berries, kale, spinach, beans, and beets, are important to help your mitochondria stave off the damage.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
There are times when your antioxidants are lower than the number of free radicals. This imbalance can result in oxidative stress.
Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, poor diet, drinking, and excess sun exposure can contribute to oxidative stress. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to help support the health of your mitochondria.
What is the nucleus?
The most important organelle is the nucleus, also known as “the brain of the cell.” The nucleus also has a lipid (fat) membrane around it in order to protect its vital interior.
The nucleus holds all the information needed to carry out the functions of your body. It uses DNA as the genetic blueprint to produce all the necessary proteins the cell needs to live, grow, and reproduce.
The process of creating proteins from reading the instructional information in your DNA is also known as gene expression.
Think of your DNA as one giant library of blueprint files. Different parts of the cell will ask for different blueprint files based on their needs and then assemble the necessary proteins to fulfill that need.
Your cells can create thousands of different proteins, each working to maintain cell function.
Avoid pesticides and carcinogens.
Your DNA needs to be kept safe from damage. But many environmental factors can disrupt your DNA.
Environmental toxins, particularly pesticides, can damage your DNA because they are known to be fat-soluble, and therefore can easily cross the membranes of both the cell and the nucleus.
You can minimize your exposure to pesticide residue by eating organically grown foods.
Likewise, pay close attention to carcinogenic foods like alcohol, red meats, and processed meats.
A review published in Biochemical Society Transactions, suggests exposure to carcinogens in the diet and environment can either directly or indirectly induce DNA damage.
Know your cells to make better choices.
“Trendy” diets fall short in explaining how their nutrition plan is right for you. A focus on cellular health can help you understand why it’s critical to have a healthy balanced diet.
When you eat something because someone tells you, “it’s good for you,” it can become hard for the habit to stick. A simple directive isn’t quite as motivational and helpful.
But when you are armed with the knowledge of how your nutrition is affecting your cellular health, practicing good healthy choices can come naturally.