Basic Look at How Mitochondria Function
Earlier this week, I was explaining to a family member that I struggled with fatigue because the mold poisoning that I’m currently healing from attacks my mitochondria, which are responsible for energy production. The family member then asked me what mitochondria are. I told her that mitochondria are responsible for producing energy in the cell. Still, I needed more time to explain the different aspects of the subject. Therefore, I decided to write an article to provide her and others with a reference to review the information whenever needed.
Let’s start by providing some key terms to help you better understand this article.
- Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the energy source for most cellular processing and storage at the cellular level.
- Cell – the basic structural and functional unit of all forms of life.
- Cell Membrane – also called the plasma membrane, is found in all cells and separates the cell’s interior from the outside environment. The cell membrane regulates the transport of materials entering and exiting the cell.
- Cellular respiration – the process by which an organism combines oxygen with foodstuff molecules, diverting the chemical energy in these substances into life-sustaining activities and discarding them as waste products, carbon dioxide, and water.
- Crista – is a fold in the inner membrane of a mitochondrion. The name is from the Latin word for crest plume, and it gives the inner membrane its characteristic wrinkled shape, providing a large surface area for chemical reactions to occur.
- Filaments – a long chain comprised of protein subunits. Protein subunits can be single protein molecules or polypeptide chains that join to form a protein complex.
- Free radicals – are highly reactive and unstable molecules made by the body naturally as a byproduct of normal metabolism. The body can produce free radicals as a response to toxin exposure. Free radicals can damage DNA, sometimes causing mutations and increasing your risk of getting ill or a disease.
- Metabolism – the chemical reactions in the body’s cells that change food into energy. Our bodies need this energy to do everything from moving to thinking to growing.
- Mitochondrial biogenesis – the process by which cells increase mitochondrial biogenesis.
- Mitochondrial DNA – refers to the circular chromosome found inside the cellular organelles called the mitochondrial.
- Molecule – a group of two or more atoms held together by attractive forces known as chemical bonds. For example, water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen reacting with each other.
- Organelle – a subcellular structure that has one or more specific jobs to perform in the cell.
- Oxidative stress – a bodily condition that happens when your antioxidant levels are low.
- Porous – having minute spaces or holes through which liquid or air may pass.
- Subcellular – contained within a cell.
What Are Mitochondria?
The Oxford Dictionary defines mitochondria as an organelle found in large numbers in most cells, where the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production occur. Mitochondria have double membranes. The cell’s outer membrane contains pores, while its inner membrane is folded to form cristae. Mitochondria are everywhere in your body. Mitochondria are well known for their function of converting oxygen and food into energy. The human body is made of a few hundred cell types, and of all the cell types, only one type does not have mitochondria.
Mitochondria is commonly referred to as the powerhouse of the cell. They carry out many critical biological processes and are central to the correct functioning of the human cell. Mitochondria have many functions, but before we discuss their other roles, let’s first explore how they transform the oxygen that we breathe in and the food that we eat into energy.
Mitochondria Coverts Oxygen and Food into Energy
The oxygen that we breathe in and the food that we eat move towards one point and join together in the mitochondria. According to Martin Picard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Behavioral (In Psychiatry, Neurology, and the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center), this is where the magic and an incredibly complex process happens. Here, the ripping off electrons and the electron transport chain begins, and the mitochondria become charged. There is an electric charge inside every one of the hundreds of thousands of mitochondria that populate our cells. The mitochondria become charged like little batteries, which behave and exist as a network. Dr. Picard says they act very similarly to a social network inside every cell with mitochondria. They infuse together to form longer filaments or tubules of mitochondria. These now longer tubules of mitochondria can undergo fission or fragment into smaller bits. They have a life cycle where the old mitochondria die out, and new mitochondria are born. The mitochondria’s ability to fuse, divide, and form extensive networks allows them to respond to changes in energy demand. Chemical energy produced by mitochondria is stored in small molecules called adenosine.
Mitochondria Plays a Role in Every Disease
During this process of converting oxygen and food into energy, mitochondria exchange information. As humans communicate through language and sound, mitochondria communicate within cells using chemicals, hormones, and ions. This is quite fascinating when you think about it. Yet, their function expands far beyond the production of energy. For example, they are also involved in processing a lot of information. Unfortunately, they also play a crucial role in the development of many diseases, including mental health and illness.
We Inherit Our Mitochondrial DNA from Our Mother
Mitochondria contain their own genetic material called mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited maternally. Mutations in the mitochondrial DNA can lead to the absence or dysfunction of mitochondrial proteins. This, in turn, can cause primary mitochondrial diseases that are highly variable in onset and severity and affect many body organs differently. Due to their essential role in cellular functions, mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to complex secondary diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, heart disease, and stroke.
The Rise & Fall of Mitochondria
The pursuit of health and wellness can often appear bewildering and even daunting. I always say prevention is the best, safest, and quickest pathway to healing. Although I will not go into great detail on all the ways that mitochondria can impair our health, it is clear that damaging mitochondria can have various effects on our health, ranging from neurodegenerative disorders to death. While there are many things beyond our control, there are lifestyle changes that we can adopt to keep our mitochondria in a healthy state, many of which I’m sure you have heard before.
How to Keep Your Mitochondria Healthy
Diet – everything we put in our mouths ultimately converges directly on mitochondria or around the metabolic pathways that mitochondria regulate. So, a healthy diet is essential for having healthy mitochondria. A healthy diet can vary from person to person due to food allergies and other genetic predispositions. Below is a list of food items that can be dangerous to your mitochondria regardless of your genetics.
- Sugar and fructose – sugar and fructose have been found to impair mitochondria functions in some skeletal muscles, leading to mitochondrial oxidative stress that can damage mitochondrial DNA, as noted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s National Library of Medicine website.
- Canola oil and seed oils such as cotton, soybean, and sunflower oil are very damaging to mitochondria as they are highly susceptible to damage from unsaturated bonds. They break down into toxic byproducts like HNE and acrolein when oxidized. HNE (4-Hydroxynonenal) is a product of lipid peroxidation and is highly toxic. It causes tissue damage, injury associated with aging, and other pathological states such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and inflammation. Acrolein is a colorless liquid with a foul aroma. It is severely irritating to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Cold-pressed avocado or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil are better options than canola and seed oils.
- Fried foods (including potato chips) – cause mitochondrial dysfunction and artery damage for up to 24 hours after eating them. Your brain cells have thousands of mitochondria and will function with less energy after eating fried foods. This can result in a sluggish feeling and brain fog.
- Processed foods – heavily processed food and a diet rich in grains and added sugars can increase insulin and inflammation, resulting in accelerated mitochondrial dysfunction.
- Alcohol – studies have shown that the intake of alcohol alters mitochondrial morphology function by causing impairment of mitochondrial biogenesis, mitochondrial DNA damage, lipid accumulation, and oxidative stress.
- Foods high in oxalic acid- these foods cause oxidative stress in the mitochondria. In a previous blog post, we discussed oxalic acid, also known as oxalates, in greater detail. To learn more about food rich in oxalic acid, check out my article “The Truth About Oxalic Acid: Is Your Diet Putting You At Risk?”
Fasting – improves overall health. It also helps weed out old mitochondria and stimulates the production of new mitochondria.
Toxins such as insecticides and pesticides – induce morphological changes and dose-dependent apoptotic cell death (the process of programmed cell death). Avoiding toxins as much as possible can maintain the health of mitochondria.
Mold – autoimmunity may be triggered, and mitochondrial harm may be caused by exposure to water and mold-damaged environments. Some species of mold can produce mycotoxins, which can damage mitochondria and interfere with other cellular processes. This can lead to various health problems, from allergic reactions and respiratory issues to infections. Other symptoms of mitochondrial damage from mold include exhaustion, cramps in muscles, loss of breath, blurred vision, and neurological impairment.
Prescription and Recreational drugs – can inhibit mitochondrial function in many different ways, such as inhibiting some protein complexes, ATP synthase, and citric acid cycle enzymes. Some medications also inhibit various mitochondrial transporters and the mitochondrial transcription and translational machinery.
Certain drugs such as statins, anti-diabetics, anti-epileptics, NSAIDs, anti-depressants, and some antibiotics are known to induce mitochondrial toxicity.
Exercise or moving your body – can cause cells to create more proteins for energy-producing mitochondria.
Sleep – While more research is needed in this area, it is thought that your mitochondria help your body repair itself while you sleep.
Sunlight – near-infrared light from sunlight or artificial sources stimulates melatonin production in the mitochondria, which has antioxidant effects. Melatonin exerts a myriad of health benefits, such as stabilizing the mitochondria by triggering mitophagy and apoptosis.
Manage stress – mitochondrial response to stress results in excess free radicals’ generation and sensitization to cell death.
Regarding why you should protect and keep your mitochondria healthy, I have not even touched the surface of the various health issues resulting from damage and dysfunctional mitochondria. Other symptoms include lassitude (weariness or debility), convulsions, cardiomyopathy, intellectual or developmental disabilities, diabetes mellitus, and a decline in hearing, vision, growth, liver, and gastrointestinal or renal function.
Remember, mitochondria are found in most cells. Cells are the basic building blocks for all living things. They form together and make tissue; two or more tissues form organs, and so on. Cells are the foundation of the body. If your foundation is unhealthy, sick, or dysfunctional, you can’t be healthy and thrive.
This article aimed to encourage you to pay more attention to your health at the cellular level, particularly your mitochondria. I hope I have succeeded and that you have found this article helpful. Please share it with someone that you think may be blessed by it. As always, take care of yourselves, and happy healing. See you next time.
The Human Cell: Understanding Your Body at the Cellular Level
The Truth About Oxalic Acid: Is Your Diet Putting You at Risk?
Understanding CIRS: Clarity for Your Symptoms
Hydration Essentials: Why Water is Key to Health & Wellness