Similar to how environmental factors can cause physical batteries to perform better or worse, the same applies to our mitochondria and energy levels. Below are 3 examples of what drains and potentially damages our internal energy factories.
When experiencing chronic stress, our mitochondria increase the body’s energy production to keep organs and physiological processes working overtime. A normal byproduct of ATP production (adenosinetriphosphate or our energy) is something called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS), a type of free radical. So mitochondria working overtime produce a lot more ROS.
If you’ve heard of the term “free radical” you likely know they’re like human kryptonite! Free radicals cause damage to our cells because they’re missing electrons (yes, major flashback to high school chemistry). And they desperately want to pull electrons away from wherever they can; unfortunately, this includes lipids that make up the outside of our cells, nucleic acids including DNA, your genetic material, and more. ROS, in other words, steal body electrons—and that’s not healthy. ROS electron robbers become neutralized after stealing electrons (good) but whatever is left with fewer electrons is then useless to the body.
Ever hear of how antioxidants are great for us because they fight free radicals? Our bodies make them naturally, and many foods are high in antioxidants as well, helping to capture and neutralize ROS damage. That said, however, the ROS produced from chronic stress can damage our mitochondria if the body doesn’t have access to enough antioxidants. This is also known as “oxidative stress.”
Every day we’re exposed to toxins. While most bodies do a reasonably good job of removing them quickly via the liver (e.g. BPA), some toxins appear to do more damage than others. Animal studies have shown, for example, that substances in common pesticides like Roundup disrupt the membrane of a cell and interrupt mitochondrial function even in concentrations 450 times more diluted than the amount sprayed on agricultural crops (Meletis, p. 3).
Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and our bodies have been processing it for a very long time. Our livers break it down with no problem, however the process does produce a higher level of damaging byproducts—particularly more ROS (Lustig, p 228). Of course there’s the evil, man-made cousin of fructose: High fructose corn syrup. This stuff is ubiquitous in packaged foods, from ketchup to baked goods to soda drinks. The more we ingest, the more our lives process. The result? More ROS and some seriously unhappy mitochondria.
So how do you know if your mitochondria are getting beat up?
Mitochondrial dysfunction can be characterized by a number of symptoms, but most commonly this includes unexplained fatigue, sore muscles, brain fog and feeling generally worn out. If you experience any of these, your mitochondria may be rusty and could benefit from a tune-up.
Aside from effects caused by stress, toxins, infections and more, mitochondrial dysfunction can also develop from a poor diet—not properly fueling your fuel factories! Mitochondria need the typical macronutrients (protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates) as well as oxygen to create ATP. But they also need a whole lot of critical micronutrients found in nutritious food, which we’ll explore in another post.
In the meantime, consider taking action this week to:
- Relax and help your body eliminate stress
- Be mindful when picking produce to avoid pesticide exposure
- Eliminate food and beverages with high fructose corn syrup (especially soda!)
- Try to purchase organic items whenever possible
- Do more research--how else you can make your environment more mitochondria-friendly?!
Filler, K., Lyon, D., Bennett, J., McCain, N., Elswick, R., Lukkahatai, N., & Saligan, L. N. (2014). Association of mitochondrial dysfunction and fatigue: a review of the literature. BBA clinical, 1, 12-23.
Lustig, R. H. (2013). Fructose: it’s “alcohol without the buzz”. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 4(2), 226-235.
Meletis, Chris D. and Wilkes, Kimberly. (2015, June). Mitochondria: Overlooking These Small Organelles Can Have Huge Clinical Consequences in Treating Virtually Every Disease. Retrieved from the Townsend Letter. http://www.townsendletter.com/June2015/mito0615_2.html