I’m officially geeking out on the mighty mitochondria today. These tiny energy powerhouses literally keep us alive!
Mitochondria are my latest obsession. They deserve a lot of TLC.
While this post will be a bit “science-y,” there are lots of actionable recommendations you can use right away to strengthen your mitochondrial health.
Meet your mighty mitochondria.
Every cell in the body needs energy to survive.
All that energy is manufactured in those tiny bean-shaped organelles buried within each cell called mitochondria.
They function just like tiny batteries, producing more than 90% of your cellular energy output.
Ready to break your brain?
We have more than 37 trillion cells in our bodies and 1,000-2,000 mitochondria in each cell.
I’m just in awe of our miraculous bodies and the job they do keeping us alive and thriving.
Your mitochondria profoundly effect how you feel.
They’re crucial for energy production, longevity, fat loss, maintaining blood sugar levels, and improving athletic performance.
They play a role in preventing heart disease and neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Mitochondria are super important in high-energy demanding organs such as your heart, liver, muscles and brain — 40% of each heart muscle cell and 25% of each liver cell are made up of mitochondria.
Have you ever wondered how what we eat actually fuels the body?
Inside our mitochondria is where our basic life requirements — air/oxygen and food — are combined to make energy.
They’re genius at turning the nutrients we eat into the energy we need to fuel every part of the the body.
They generate the majority of the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) that our cells use for energy so we can complete everyday tasks like walking, running, working, talking, thinking, etc.
In short, mitochondria are required in order for us to do anything and everything.
For a more scientific understanding of this energy making process, you can check out the Krebs cycle.
Your mitochondria are vital to nearly every biochemical reaction and cellular process in your body.
Overall, mitochondria are responsible for keeping you energized and your body systems running normally.
If they are impaired, then your body will not function at its fullest potential.
That’s why optimizing mitochondrial function is one of the most effective ways to support these processes.
Optimizing mitochondrial function not only increases your overall energy levels, it also has the potential to slow down the aging process.
Mitochondria keep your immune system healthy.
They contain a protein called MAVS. It signals your immune system and gets it to fight pathogens by producing many more white blood cells.
This prepares your body to do battle with any incoming infections.
Ever wonder why you always feel tired when you get sick?
It’s because your mitochondria are preoccupied fighting the invaders. Therefore, they produce less energy for you to use while they activate and run your immune system.
If your mitochondria aren’t in tip top shape, neither are you.
Mitochondria use oxygen to generate energy. They release a number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that cause oxidative stress.
This can be harmful to cellular structures.
It causes damage to lipids, proteins and DNA.
Eliminating the foods and habits that damage cellular structures and drain their energy will help you repair the harm and optimize your mitochondrial function.
Eat less food to optimize mitochondrial health.
Haha! What else is new?
Easier said then done, but I can show you how to eat less while experiencing greater satiety and less hunger.
The recommendation to eat less food is really a call to eat more whole food and less processed food.
Whole foods activate your satiety signals while processed foods do not. Therefore it is possible to eat less without the deprivation that the thought of calorie restriction conjures up.
Researchers have raised the issue that the term “calorie restriction” gets a bad rap. It sounds punitive and controlling.
We’re often warned that calorie restriction leads to disordered eating. But that’s not axiomatic.
Here’s why: we’re no longer eating in alignment with our ancestral biological programming.
Today, we have a plethora of food options, all readily available 24/7. We no longer need to expend hunting and gathering energy to find food. Plus, the highly processed edible food-like products manufactured by certain food purveyors provide little to no nutrition to fuel our dear, sweet mitochondria.
Is it any wonder your body cries out for more food? It needs fuel to operate efficiently.
Put simply, we’re routinely over-consuming non-nutritive calories in particular.
When we eat whole unprocessed foods that provide real nutrition, we need less of it to reach satiety.
We can re-calibrate and desire fewer calories to meet our energy needs when we eat whole foods that can nourish and fuel our bodies.
Calorie reduction lowers the production of free radicals, improving mitochondrial function.
Excess calories lead not only to obesity but also to heightened inflammatory processes.
When ROS lead to oxidative stress, it can trigger mitochondrial changes that exacerbate the inflammatory processes associated with obesity.
This self-perpetuating cycle can continuously inhibit energy production in every cell in your body.
However, you can interrupt this cycle by reducing the calories you eat every day.
By removing sources of inflammation from your diet, including processed foods, you can improve mitochondrial function.
Intermittent fasting optimizes mitochondrial health.
In addition to reducing calories, research shows that limiting your food intake to an 8-10 hour window or shorter can trigger your mitochondria to adapt.
Intermittent fasting supports the mitochondrial network by removing damaged mitochondria and triggering biogenesis of new mitochondria.
When eating less frequently, the quality of your food matters more than ever.
How to eat for your mitochondrial health.
Avoid processed carbs. Whole foods for the win. But you already knew that!
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that excess carbs can lead to significant changes in the shape and function of mitochondria, particularly in certain brain cells.
The researchers suspect these changes might contribute to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
The changes might also contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which some experts refer to as type 3 diabetes.
Rampant inflammation resulting from excess carbs alters your hormone production and regulation, further damaging your mitochondria.
By avoiding processed carbs, you can reduce inflammation, improve your hormone regulation, and increase mitochondrial function, all in one fell swoop!
In short, be sure to add more fruits, veggies, and whole foods into your diet.
Your cells will have more micro-nutrients to work with. They can produce more energy more efficiently without you needing to take supplements.
Eat quality protein like grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens and their eggs.
Animal products are rich sources of the key nutrients L-carnitine and creatine. Both are vital for supplying energy to your mitochondria.
You can get plenty of both by adding grass-fed beef, bison, eggs, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds to your diet.
Get some form of exercise every day.
Not for weight loss, per se, but for your mitochondrial health.
Physical exercise is the best way to increase your oxygen intake, critical for the mitochondria’s Krebs cycle.
As your body uses up more energy, it will force itself to produce more mitochondria to keep up with the demand. And, your mitochondria become more efficient.
If you don’t exercise every day, if you aren’t expending energy or using up your oxygen, your cells will produce less energy. Less energy production = more tired.
There you have it! Exercise can actually stimulate more energy rather than deplete it.
Try for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
You can mix it up with aerobic exercises, core exercises, stretching, walking/jogging, biking, and strength training.
No matter what your fitness level, you’ll always benefit from variety.
Consider heat therapy.
Heat therapy, like sauna use, has been shown to increase the efficiency of mitochondria.
Higher average heat has been linked to the increased efficiency of mitochondria. When warm, it’s a lot easier for cellular metabolism to occur. This causes your body to also make better use of the oxygen present in your blood.
While traditional saunas work for this treatment, infrared saunas are more comfortable for many people and provide more benefits. Plus, it might be easier to breathe and relax without the steam.
The energy needs of mitochondria increase, resulting in better use of oxygen in the blood through a process called oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS).
If this sounds good to you, aim for 2-3 sauna sessions per week for at least 10-15 minutes.
Consider cold showers.
Stay with me on this one.
Placing the body under mild stress has positive effects on energy and health.
Short bursts of cold are the perfect way to safely stress your cells.
Cold showers jump start the right kind of acute cellular stress which “wakes up” your mitochondria and improves their performance.
Cold exposure has been shown to kill off weak mitochondria. It not only makes the strong ones stronger, but also encourage strong mitochondria to multiply. The stronger your mitochondria, the stronger your whole body. Stronger mitochondria = more energy.
- Enter the shower as soon as the water starts running. That is, when its freezing cold and a little unpleasant.
- You want to be forced to draw in a sharp breath. Once you’re in, you can add some hot water and shower at a civilized temperature.
- Before you get out of the shower, turn off the hot water and try to stay in the cold water for another 30 seconds.
- If you’re feeling frisky, you can build up to completely cold showers to really challenge yourself,. But, the “cold water sandwich” style of shower works really well too.
Let me confess right here and now, this approach to providing a stimulating stress to my mitochondria is the one I’m least inclined to EVER try.
Reduce stress with relaxation techniques.
Our bodies are designed to handle acute stress. But when we experience conditions which produce chronic stress, this harms our cells and mitochondria.
Stress hormones can alter mitochondrial function. This negatively effects several biological process, especially for the immune, nervous and endocrine systems.
Now, this advice is my speed.
Taking time to relax for self-care is more important now than ever to manage chronic stress.
Consider engaging in calming, low-impact exercises such as Yoga or Tai Chi.
Even just setting time aside to read and enjoying a warm, soothing cup of tea can help.
Relaxation techniques like meditation and massage can reduce the effects of psychological stress.
Prioritize getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
A good night’s sleep protects the brain by clearing neural waste, the byproducts of thinking that build up during the day.
When neutral waste accumulates, it is harmful to the mitochondria in the brain’s neurons.
Research also suggests a relationship between your circadian rhythm and the function of mitochondria.
If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, this can lead to a decline in the production of cellular energy.
Create a definite, standard sleep-wake cycle, stick to it every day and night.
Put away any electronic screens at least an hour before it’s time to go to sleep. I activated the blue light blocker on both my iPhone and tablet. I try to wear my blue light blocking reading glasses in the evening.
Optimizing mitochondrial function goes hand in hand with making weight loss easier.
I designed the It’s Never Too Late Weight Loss Coaching program to help you address your mitochondrial health.
When you have excellent energy and a strong immune response, it’s so much easier to stay the weight loss course.
Take me up on the FREE Strategy Call I offer.
Find out how you can protect and improve your mitochondrial health and lose weight in the process. The two outcomes dovetail beautifully.
Schedule your FREE Strategy Call right here.
I’m looking forward to meeting you soon.
It’s Never too Late to make your weight loss journey a success.