How to Support Your Mitochondria Through Nutrition + Lifestyle
If you ever took biology in school, you might be familiar with the phrase, "the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell." Mitochondria plays a significant role in how well your body functions, and its impacts on metabolic processes are substantial. The mitochondria truly are the energy source of all cellular processes, and it's responsible for metabolic energy through its production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the "currency" of cells. Essentially, the mitochondria "makes the money" for the entire metabolism by creating ATP, and the cells spend this energy to perform needed actions. If mitochondria are not supported, the metabolism is not supported. Some of these actions include:
apoptosis (programmed cell death)
stem cell regulation
the conversion of food into energy
If mitochondria are not supported, overall health is at risk. Everything from premature greying hair, to migraine headaches, anemia, and diabetes are linked to under-supported mitochondria. To support mitochondria, it's necessary to be aware of two main categories of support: nutrients and lifestyle. Certain nutrients will be more in demand from the mitochondria, and certain lifestyle factors will be particularly supportive.
Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684129/, mitochondrial dysfunction and correlated health states
Nutrients For ATP Production and Mitochondrial Support
Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684129/, this figure above shows the scientifically proven necessary nutrients for ATP production
While our mitochondria need a wide variety of nutrients to function at their best, specific nutrients are particularly impactful for mitochondrial function.
B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3)
B vitamins can be found in food (especially in organ meats, bee pollen, wild fatty fish, and fruit). My three favorite sources of B vitamins include beef heart, bee pollen, and brewers yeast. You can add beef heart into ground beef, add bee pollen to yogurt, and add brewers yeast to smoothies or baked goods if you are determined to make nourishment through food a priority. While all B vitamins are needed by the body, Thiamine, Riboflavin, and Niacin and especially important for mitochondrial support.
CoQ10 is found naturally in meat, fatty fish, and nuts but not in large quantities. The best food sourced CoQ10 will be found in beef heart, but supplemental ubiquinol (the electron-rich form of CoQ10) can be a good idea for those needing extra support.
This mineral is needed for over 300 enzymatic processes and for converting food into energy via ATP. Magnesium can be found in grains (sprout if possible), chocolate, and greens. I suggest supplementation for most, unless other electrolytes are out of balance and need to be dealt with first.
Although plant-based diets are still promoted as being beneficial by some, the most concentrated dietary source of cysteine will be found in animal foods, namely meat, and cheese. Cysteine is the precursor to the master antioxidant glutathione, which prevents oxidative stress within the body. While you can supplement with NAC (n-acetyl-cysteine), supporting your body with plenty of high-quality animal protein is a great first step. I typically suggest anywhere from 120-165 grams of protein a day based on an individual's needs, weight, and activity level.
If you are interested in reading more about the necessary nutrients for ATP production, you can read this research article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684129/. Other antioxidants, such as resveratrol (found in wine), are also beneficial for ATP production, although they might not be essential. There are also medications, such as NSAIDs, antibiotics, and amphetamines, that have been shown to harm mitochondrial function.
In addition to these nutrients above, iron and manganese are also needed for ATP production. If you are eating animal protein (especially red meat) and seafood (such as oysters, for manganese), you will most likely be getting enough of these nutrients.
A few lifestyle additions that can support mitochondrial health include:
Exercise, especially weight training, and short burst HIIT
Quality sleep, 7-10 hours a night
Meditation, prayer and mindfulness
Infrared Light Therapy
To support mitochondria, it's also important to be aware of what can contribute to mitochondrial damage. Although we can support ATP production through nutrition and lifestyle factors, these factors below can damage mitochondria. Everything from metals (found in unfiltered water, many pharmaceuticals and some fish), to pollutants in the environment can contribute to harm. Although not every harmful element can be avoided, we can fuel our bodies and become informed about what can harm, and do what we can to mitigate potential stressors.