Have you ever felt like you have a sluggish metabolism?
Or maybe I should have asked “when’s the last time you complained about having a sluggish metabolism?”
Feel like your get up and go got up and left?
5 little secrets your doctor probably doesn’t know about mitochondria
Three cheers for our awesome mitochondria! Without them we literally wouldn’t be where or who we are.
Did you know that your cells contain tiny power generators called mitochondria? It’s these tiny power generators that literally power practically everything you do. And not just the active stuff. They also power you when you’re resting and sleeping. They keep you breathing, keep your heart beating, help you digest and dream and feel and move.
Your doctors have studied mitochondria in medical school. But sometimes it’s hard for them to translate those lessons into real world applications, because a lot of the focus was on the reactions that happen inside mitochondria. In fact, truth be told, some of your doctors wondered what the point was in learning all that biochemistry in so much depth. It’s not like it was ever going to come in handy when treating actual patients.
Question for the doctors: were you relieved to pass those science exams so that you could immediately forget them and move on to the important stuff, like identifying and treating diseases with the right drugs and surgeries?
You're probably wondering why it’s important for you to learn anything about mitochondria
What if I told you that both your health and how long you’ll live are determined by how healthy your mitochondria are?
And what if I told you that there are lots of small and large decisions that you’re making every single day that can alter the state of play for your mitochondria in both positive and negative ways.
Have mitochondria suddenly started to sound a bit more interesting? They hold some to the secrets to life and death. Unfortunately, they’re also vulnerable and prone to malfunction. Malfunction or dysfunction of your mitochondria tends to become more common as we age.
But a steady, or rapidly accelerating, deterioration in health isn’t inevitable.
There are lots of different things that can impact your mitochondrial health and performance. Which also means that there’s loads that you can do to improve them, too.
Your metabolism is ruled by your mitochondria
This article reveals 5 secrets that can help you to unlock some of the mysteries of mitochondria and how you can begin to harness them to improve your health.
Without mitochondria there are only single celled microbes: bacteria and archaea.
So why on earth do we keep damaging them? It’s like a mass suicide pact that we all have. How have we prioritised convenience and the pursuit of money over our own health?
Because we didn’t realise how precious and vulnerable our mitochondria are to damage? Most of us are completely unaware of their importance, or the precariousness of their health, until it’s too late.
Despite the fact that metabolic syndrome and related disorders are the commonest causes of chronic illness, not many people realise that it's because their mitcohondria have been damaged
And by “most of us” I’m including doctors. Your doctor is pretty unlikely to pick up on the fact that your symptoms are due to mitochondrial damage.
That’s because they’ve been taught that the only thing that can go wrong with mitochondria is gene mutations in one of the 13 mitochondrial genes that still reside in the mitochondria themselves. Generally, doctors aren’t even aware that nearly all of the genes that mitochondria need to function have long ago been packaged up, shipped out and relocated in our nuclear DNA, with the rest of our genetic material.
And doctors aren’t generally aware that environmental toxins, poor nutrition and lifestyle choices can harm your mitochondria.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What are mitochondria?
Mitochondria are fascinating. We often call them the powerhouses of the cells, or cellular batteries because they’re responsible for producing almost all the energy that keeps us alive and functioning.
Think of your mitochondria as your primary power generators. They’re small, yet mighty.
The reason you need to eat and breathe is so that you can provide your cells with combustable fuel and oxygen. In addition, you need to consume all the raw materials necessary for you to create and repair your tissues and the machinery you need to perform every function in your body. Breathing is also how you get rid of carbon dioxide, the main waste product made by your mitochondria when they burn your food to make energy.
All of that combustion generates a lot of heat.
Here’s some new research showing that mitochondria can fire up short bursts of heat lasting as short as a second, and increasing the temperature even further. These brief flashes of heat can boost internal mitochondrial temperatures in under a second by as much as 5℃. Isn’t that phenomenal? It’s almost like a mini explosion. Or a bolt of lightning. In fact, research suggests that the electric field strength across the mitochondrial membranes may be as much as 30 million volts per metre. That’s the equivalent of a bolt of lightning!
It seems like this extra heat energy comes from stored protons.
You can’t expect to have damaged mitochondria and feel great.
Secret #1. Mitochondrial damage is at the heart of every major modern chronic disease, as well as the ageing process.
In fact mitochondrial damage has now been linked with every major chronic disease. When you go looking for it in illness, you’ll find mitochondrial damage and dysfunction. This is true of cancer, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s disease, Autism, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, autoimmune conditions and many more. In fact I’ve previously written a post on the increased risk that young people with congenital heart disease have of being diagnosed with cancer here. I mentioned mitochondrial dysfunction in it, but didn’t go into a lot of detail.
Secret #2. Our world is full of dangerous toxins and other things that can damage your mitochondria and steal your health
What’s concerning, and something that a lot of people aren’t aware of, is that every single day we’re exposed to things that are toxic to our mitochondria and cause them damage. Some of that damage might be reversible when you remove the toxin. But some of it isn’t. And some toxins are a lot harder to get rid of than others.
Like the persistent organic pollutants, DDT, PCBs and dioxins.
Or like gadolinium and other heavy metals, such as mercury or lead. You’re probably aware that I’m only one of an increasing group of people who’ve experienced severe gadolinium side effects. If you’d like to read more about my journey with gadolinium toxicity, I’ve written about it more here and here.
While efforts are being made to reduce environmental exposures to mercury and lead, the opposite is true of gadolinium. Gadolinium pollution is occurring primarily as a result of the increasing use of gadolinium based contrast agents for MRIs. We’re using gadolinium based contrast so frequently that river and coastal waters are becoming polluted with gadolinium. Many aquatic species that have been studied have displayed evidence of gadolinium side effects.
Certainly, this could be calamitous for aquatic environments. But it also means that gadolinium is entering both our food and water supplies. So many of us are going to be unknowingly exposed to more of this toxin in our diets. Gadolinium compounds now appear to be the most ubiquitous water contaminant in most countries with advanced healthcare systems, including England, the USA, Japan, Germany, France and Australia. Gadolinium is now classified as one of the Microcontaminants of Emerging Concern (MECs). Gadolinium based contrast agents are a new type of persistent organic pollutant (POP).
Gadolinium compounds are used in many industries, but healthcare is probably responsible for most of our exposure.
When persistent toxins are retained in your body, they continually damage your mitochondria. And by extension, almost all cellular processes. Remember that almost every process that needs energy to drive it (which is almost every single important thing that goes on inside your body) relies on mitochondria.
Don’t believe me? It’s mitochondria that utilise almost all of the oxygen you require when you breathe. And they do it to produce energy. How long can you survive without oxygen? A few minutes. In those few minutes it’s your mitochondria that are all cataclysmically failing together. If that’s not reversed quickly, you die.
Have you ever heard of cyanide poisoning? Cyanide is another very well known mitochondrial toxin. A big enough dose kills in minutes.
Why don’t all of these other mitochondrial toxins kill us within minutes? Well, the dose makes the poison.
Your mitochondria can be exposed in a patchy fashion with smaller doses. Some will mop up more toxins and others less.
Here are some other toxic exposures that can impact your mitochondria:
- Contaminants in your water supply
- Medication side effects, but also impurities found in generic and brand medications (you really should check out Katherine Eban’s work on this. She’s written a book called Bottle of Lies as well as a lot of articles on the subject)
- Work exposures
- Home environment (think about chemicals that you use in your garden, your cleaning products, skincare, deodorants, toothpastes, makeup, air fresheners, flame retardants, and more)
- Moulds and mycotoxins
- EMF exposures (EMF has been shown to alter how channels, called voltage gated calcium channels, work and to cause increased free radical production and a reduction in our master antioxidant, glutathione)
- Exposure to blue light in the evenings (via screens TV, smartphones, computers and even bright white LED bulbs can interfere with your normal sleep cycle)
- Dental practices (amalgam fillings, dental implants and root canals for starters)
- Surgical implants (everything from breast implants to titanium hips)
And while all of your cells contain mitochondria (with the exception of mature red blood cells, which have jettisoned theirs), different cells contain different numbers of them.
Some cells may contain thousands of mitochondria, like heart, liver, kidney and brain cells. Other cell types might only contain a few mitochondria, like white blood cells. The busier the cells and the more they need to do, the greater the amount of energy they need to generate and the more mitochondria they need to have to meet those requirements.
What are some common symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction?
Mitochondria can limp along with milder degrees of damage, but you might start experiencing symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, weight gain, temperature regulation problems, pains, weakness, gut problems, irritable bowel, chronic inflammation, numbness, seizures, anaemia, muscle twitches, palpitations… the list goes on and on.
As you can see, predicting symptoms from mitochondrial toxicity becomes very difficult. The mitochondria that end up being exposed to the highest levels of toxins will be hit the hardest. But it’s a mixture of pot luck, illnesses that can alter your blood flow to different organs, infectious diseases, the dose of the toxin you receive, what other toxins you’ve been exposed to over the course of your life, your overall state of health and nutrition, your genetics and many other factors, that determine how you’ll manifest mitochondrial toxicity.
Secret #4. Decisions that you make now can affect the health of your offspring and their children. Likewise, some of your health challenges might actually be to do with something that your parents or grandparents did.
We are even discovering that things that your parents and even grandparents were exposed to can alter YOUR health because genes being switched on and off can be transmitted down through generations. This is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. I blame it for my extreme dislike of very large spiders.
Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance is exemplified by the agouti mouse experiments, where diets and nutrients can alter the appearances of the offspring of these mice from plump and blonde to slim and brown. You can watch an explanation of agouti mouse experiments here.
Secret #5. There are loads of ways that you can actually support and help to repair your mitochondria, even after they’re damaged and even if you’re stuck with persistent toxins that are hard to eliminate.
How do you support and repair your mitochondria? There’s no magic bullet. Sometimes, if you can identify the toxin and remove it, that will be enough. But it’s seldom just a single toxin. And sometimes the toxins aren’t so easy to remove, particularly when they’re retained in your body.
So what else can you do to support your mitochondria? Change almost everything. From your diet to your sleep patterns, from the right exercise to reducing stress, from getting outside into the sun and nature to forming close connections with other people. Not to mention targeted mitochondrial supplements, like PQQ and D-ribose.
There is so much that you can do using diet that you could write a book about it. But you definitely want to:
- do your utmost to avoid malnutrition,
- identify foods that can be more inflammatory and minimise or remove them completely, and
- focus on including foods that can boost your own antioxidant production inside your cells.
For a nourishing recipe that harnesses some of these foods, check out this trottery goodness bone broth recipe. Some of your nutritional requirements may need to be personalised, eg if you’ve been diagnosed with any autoimmune conditions chances are you’ll have multiple food intolerances that you’ll need to identify.
You might also believe that you probably don’t have malnutrition because you try to follow national dietary guidelines. However, as people tend to adhere more and more closely to government guidelines we become more and more malnourished. I’ve written about this paradox here. But I’ve got news for you: it’s not really a paradox. It’s because our national dietary guidelines are created to promote the profits of the food industry, rather than to improve nutrition.
You can also use sweating, special foods and supplements to help you to eliminate many toxins that are stuck in your body.
There are even supplements and diet and lifestyle hacks that you can use that trigger the production of new mitochondria. This is called mitochondrial biogenesis.
The powerful antioxidant and sleep hormone, melatonin, also protects mitochondria and shows great promise in helping to manage many chronic illnesses. Melatonin is another supplement that can enhance mitochondrial biogenesis.
Even hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by improving and protecting mitochondrial function. Then there are practices, like fasting and cold thermogenesis, that have also been shown to improve mitochondrial function, although they might not be for everyone.
Basically, you can do a lot. But it’s not easy. And a lot of it isn’t free, although some of it is, like getting outside and going for walks, or meditating, or trying to prioritise your sleep.
What to do if you would like to make changes to support your mitochondria, but you don't know where to start
I’m now a nutrition and lifestyle coach, although I used to be a consultant paediatrician with a specialist interest in childhood allergy. Although I’ve always found inborn errors of metabolism fascinating, too.
I take all the learnings I’ve acquired over the years and apply them to the problems of gadolinium toxicity and chronic illness. And the more I learn, the greater my appreciation of the incredible power of nutrition, lifestyle and targeted supplements in improving your health.
If you’re not sure what I offer, you can find out more about my services here. And if you’re still not sure whether I might be able to help you, why not contact me to arrange a free discovery call?
Find out how what might be holding back your metabolism and what you can do about it.
Mitochondria are awesome! But why would you want to learn about them? Well, because if you have any sort of chronic illness, particularly if you have exposure to toxins, then you have some of your mitochondria are malfunctioning. And there is a lot that you can do about this.Posted by The Food Phoenix on Friday, 20 September 2019