The Mitochondria: The Cell’s Dynamos

Juvenon Health Journal volume 1 number 4 october 2002

The Mitochondria: The Cell's Dynamos
The mitochondria are dynamos encased inside double membranes. The outer one communicates with the cell, and the inner membrane contains machinery capable of converting food (glucose) to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical form of energy. ATP combines with specific enzymes to perform different forms of work – for example muscle contraction. The number of mitochondria per cell varies widely. Muscle cells of an athlete may contain over 4,000 per cell, whereas those of a less active cell can number one-tenth to one-twentieth of that number.

These energy-producing dynamos are highly efficient but not perfect. While converting food to energy, they leak small quantities of toxic chemical substances, known as free radicals. Free radicals are akin to radioactive particles in that both are highly reactive and capable of damaging genetic material (DNA) and other critical cellular components.

“The consequence of this damage to the mitochondria is initially small, but cumulative over time.”

Fortunately, our bodies have evolved means to neutralize the bulk of these toxic products before they damage the cell. This protective process is also not perfect. Invariably, some damage is inflicted on the cell over time. The mitochondria themselves are the initial target of attack simply because of proximity. The consequence of this damage to the mitochondria is initially small, but cumulative over time.

Thus has emerged an interpretation called the Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. This theory asserts that aging is the product of cumulative damage to the cell by the release from the mitochondria of small amounts of tissue-damaging toxic substances. The damaged mitochondria produce even greater amounts of free radicals, and are less efficient in producing energy. The accumulated damage to the mitochondria, and also to other cellular components, finally destroys the cell. The mitochondria are a classic example of a Catch 22. They are necessary for energy production but ultimately cause aging and death.

What does all this mean for healthy aging? Recent evidence indicates that the energy efficiency of the mitochondria is a critical factor in aging. The individual who exercises and maintains a healthy, highly nutritious, but low-calorie diet is likely to have more efficient mitochondria. It appears that consumption of calories in excess of what the body requires for full function, interferes with mitochondrial energy-producing machinery. In essence, an imbalance between fuel intake and energy output gums up the energy-producing machinery. This condition, the over-fed state, leads to both inefficient energy production and an increase in the release of toxic by-products – not to mention the social stigma of being overweight.

Obviously, an important step to promote mitochondrial health is to consume and burn an equal number of calories each day. This can be done through exercise and a diet high in nutritional value (see the September Juvenon Health Journal for dietary recommendations). Recent findings indicate this simple approach maximizes energy efficiency. When energy efficiency is optimal, mitochondrial decay is minimal. But the decay does continue as we age, albeit at a lower level. Besides exercising and maintaining an appropriate diet, is there anything else we can do about it?

Recently published research indicates that damaged mitochondria present in the aged animal can be at least partially corrected through a diet supplemented with specific natural compounds. A combination of two compounds, acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, has been shown in animal studies to reverse age-associated mitochondrial damage. (See the Science section of the web site). The effect of these compounds is to restore some of the mitochondrial components lost, perhaps as a result of accumulated damage, and to convert old, inefficient mitochondria to a more youthful level. These developments are encouraging, since they indicate we may be able to improve our energy levels, and the overall health of our bodies through proper nutrition, regular exercise, and supplementing the diet with specific compounds.

Ask Ben
Dr. Treadwell answers your questions about Juvenon™ Cellular Health Supplement

QUESTION: Will vitamins interfere with the Juvenon Energy Formula™?
N.F., Brazil

ANSWER: The compounds present in the Juvenon Energy Formula™ work in concert with vitamins, especially the B vitamins. In fact, if there is a deficiency in one or more of the vitamins, the effectiveness of the Energy Formula will be compromised. I recommend taking a multiple along with a B-complex vitamin to ensure an adequate level of vitamins for maximum health and effectiveness of the Energy Formula.

The November issue of the Juvenon Health Journal will discuss vitamins and the basis for supplementing our diets with them, especially as we age.