Curebiome Naturopathic

Mitochondria – the basics

Mitochondria – the basics

What are Mitochondria, what do they do, where are they found?

You might remember mitochondria from science class back in school, where you drew pictures of the anatomy of a cell. The mitochondria looked like little sausages with squiggly lines inside of them (tk image). Most of us don’t remember too much about what they actually do, but you might remember the phrase “power houses of the cell.” This hints at their main function, which is to create energy through production of the molecule ATP.

Mitochondria are really fascinating when you start to understand they are necessary for us to function as an organism made of millions of cells. Mitochondria take our energy output and multiply it by 16 fold. While the base 2 ATP that primitive metabolism extracts from glucose, the mitochondria increases production to 32 ATP! Without this many of our cells would either starve or we would have to eat dramatically higher amounts of food to survive. This is really what lets us be a large, complex organisms with many organs. This includes our muscles and a big energy hungry brain that allows us to think the way we do.

How the mitochondria accomplish this is through the electron transport chain. The electron transport chain is a team of proteins inside the mitochondria which allows the mitochondria to extract multiple times more energy than our cell could otherwise. The process is called cellular respiration and is a highly efficient system. The electron transport chain is important because it’s very sensitive to nutrient deficiencies and chemical toxins, which reduce function and lead to low energy.

Mitochondria enable us to be a large, intelligent person through the enhanced production of energy we’re talking about. When mitochondria function decreases, we function less well, when mitochondrial function stops completely many of our cells will die from starvation. We see this in cases of cyanide poisoning, because cyanide actually binds to part of the electron transport chain and shuts down energy production completely which leads to death within hours to days.

There are a lot of other jobs our mitochondria do, like cell signaling, calcium homeostastis, apoptosis (programmed cell death) and much more. The point is, mitochondria are found in most cells in your body and they help everything work better. They are present in the highest levels within the muscles and brain where we have higher energy needs. Remember this because anytime there is fatigue, low energy or any sort of brain fog or cognitive issues mitochondria are a big part of correcting the issues.

Mitochondria aren’t the only thing to consider, but in a lot of situations they are a big part of the solution. If we don’t think about or even know about mitochondria, then we’re leaving a major part of our health on the table.

The role of mitochondria in health and disease

Mitochondria play a role in many diseases, but very rarely are they the main component. The more common signs and symptoms of poor mitochondrial health is seen in fatigue and weakness. Since mitochondria are found in such high levels within the
muscles, if there are too few or the mitochondria present aren’t working quite right then you’ll feel tired and weak. If the problem is more widespread it may effect the brain and nervous system, which can cause brain fog, trouble concentrating, clumsiness and memory problems.

The more problems the mitochondria have, the more intense symptoms you start to notice. Mitochondrial function is a component in diabetes and heart disease, which often come together. Considering mitochondria help us burn off the energy from sugar, it makes sense. In diabetes we commonly see that mitochondria are both smaller than normal, and there are less of them. Another common problem is that it’s difficult for diabetic individuals to make new mitochondria, all of which comes together to further aggravate a system that is already under heavy stress. In cardiovascular health mitochondria are extremely important. Remember the heart is a muscle that has to function all day every day, so if the mitochondria of the heart are deficient then the heart won’t be able to function well.

A major disease where mitochondria play a role is cancer, as almost every cancerous cell tends to carry abnormal mitochondria. There are a few exceptions, but the exceptions tend to be less severe forms of cancer. There is a lot of interesting research that shows these diseased mitochondria are a major part of cancer cells ability to create more cancerous offspring cells. When mitochondria can be restored, the cell regains the ability to destroy itself for it’s other malfunctions.

The last area we’ll touch on is the health of the nervous system. Mitochondrial dysfunction or inhibition in the brain and nervous system directly correlates with how well our brain can function. There is research directly into how mitochondrial function in the brain relates to Parkinson’s and Alzheimers disease, giving a new target to help slow down progression and even restore function in these diseases.
To sum everything up, mitochondria play a role in most of the major diseases we deal with today – specifically chronic diseases that present later in life. This means there is an enormous opportunity to prevent and improve these diseases by focusing on mitochondrial health. Just as important for those of us not dealing with these problems is that improving mitochondrial
function will ultimately improve our health and functions so that we think, feel and act more optimally.