Mitochondria are commonly known as “the powerhouse of the cell”, transforming the food we eat into cellular energy. Responsible for producing about 90 percent of the energy that our cells need to survive, they are some of the most essential components of the human body.
As if energy production wasn’t an important enough job, mitochondria are also responsible for triggering cell death, the fundamental mechanism in preventing tumor and cancer growth.
Mitochondrial dysfunction can occur if you don’t have enough mitochondria, if the ones you have aren’t working well, or if you don’t produce them consistently. It is now thought that mitochondrial dysfunction is the cause of most illness and chronic disease, and research suggests that half of people under the age of 40 have early onset mitochondrial dysfunction.
Poorly functioning mitochondria have been linked to issues like fatigue, excess fat, and declining cognition, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), atherosclerosis, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and mood disorders.
So, what can we do to support these essential cellular powerhouses?
Here are 5 suggestions to keep your mitochondria happy and healthy:
1. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
It’s been discovered that the primary reason for mitochondrial burnout is nutritionally deficient diets. Processed, empty-calorie foods cause mitochondria to produce excessive free radicals, prompting an inflammation response from the immune system which damages mitochondrial function.
Experts recommend a diet of primarily plant-based foods, supplemented with small amounts of grass-fed or wild-caught animal protein. Refined sugars, gluten, dairy, and hydrogenated oils and fats should be limited as much as possible.
2. Regular Physical Activity
Physical activity triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, the production of new mitochondria. Demanding more energy from your cells through movement is the only major and effective way to prompt the mitochondria to divide.
There are a lot of simple ways to incorporate more activity into your daily life – take the stairs instead of the elevator, or fit a few extra steps into your day by parking further from your destination than needed. Even everyday activities like gardening and housework can increase your movement and support your mitochondria.
Take it up a notch by trying the workout that researchers have discovered reverses aging at the cellular level – High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
3. Enough High-Quality Sleep
Studies have shown that getting less than seven hours of sleep can significantly decrease your amount of mitochondria.
Try going to bed at the same every night – getting into the habit of retiring at the same time every evening will signal to your body that it’s time to rest. Lessen blue light exposure by reducing cell phone, laptop, and tablet use an hour before you go to bed. The blue light produced by these personal electronics suppresses the secretion of melatonin and disrupts our bodies’ natural circadian rhythm which is vitally important for regenerative sleep.
4. Avoid Toxins
Heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides disrupt cellular function. Researchers have found that pesticides induce morphological changes in mitochondria, which could possibly contribute to the pathogenesis of illness, such as Parkinson’s disease.
To avoid exposure to the toxins responsible for mitochondrial detriment, opt for organic foods, personal hygiene products/cosmetics, and cleaning supplies whenever possible. Luckily, there are a number of options available today to make implementing these changes simple.
5. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
Stress is hard on our minds, but it’s equally hard on our bodies. Acute and chronic stressors can have adverse effects on mitochondrial function, particularly in the brain.
Meditation and gentle activity such as yoga have been proven to reduce stress when practiced regularly. Or, consider forest bathing. Popular in Japan, it’s the mindful practice of observing and communing with nature through all of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. It has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.