Guess what the first topic was in my Advanced Nutrition course for my holistic wellness training? You guessed it … mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of our cells. My professor compared mitochondria to the trunk of the tree of wellness. There are many other components at the roots and branches but if you don’t have a healthy trunk, you can’t have a healthy tree!
Mitochondrial dysfunction is at the heart of every chronic and acute health issue. Mitochondria function directly impacts glucose metabolism and dysfunction is linked to diabetes. Mitochondria control the cell life cycle and dysfunction is linked to tumor progression and cancer. Disorders in mitochondrial DNA signaling are found in multiple types of cancer. Low levels of mitochondria and/or damaged mitochondria are likely the root cause for fatigue, a symptom of many chronic diseases. Poorly functioning mitochondria may also contribute to neurological disease (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) and mood disorders. Current research indicates that a large portion of the population suffers from mitochondrial dysfunction.
Mitochondria are destroyed by exposure to toxins like pesticides (particularly organophosphates), viral infections, heavy metals, and some medications (chemotherapeutic agents, proton pump inhibitors, steroids, antibiotics, statins) but also by stress and inflammation.
Healthy mitochondria require certain nutrients to be consumed on a daily basis. These include B vitamins, alpha lipoic acid, CoQ10, acetyl L-carnitine and minerals like magnesium, iron, sulfur, and copper. Mitochondria also need plenty of oxygen and chlorophyll, found in green foods including green superfoods (spirulina, chlorella) and seaweed. Real foods are important; high consumption of processed foods has been linked to poor mitochondria function.
Add 2-3 of the following foods each day: mushrooms, greens (spinach, chard, kale, Romaine lettuce, collard and mustard), cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage), asparagus, almonds, peanuts, beef, liver, sardines, shrimp, salmon, scallops, beans, berries, squash, carrots, beets, apples, and grapes. Add spices and herbs: cloves, cinnamon, parsley, rosemary, sage. Variety is important; don’t do the same foods every day. A mostly plant-based diet with small amounts of clean animal protein (pasture raised) and wild-caught or sustainably farmed seafood is recommended. Avoid processed and refined foods as much as possible, especially refined sugars, gluten, conventionally farmed dairy, and hydrogenated fats and oils.
In addition to providing our mitochondria quality nutrients, certain lifestyle factors can help. Exercise in the form of moderate daily movement helps to increase and maintain production of mitochondria. There appears to be a link between massage therapy and stimulation of mitochondria, particularly with athletes or persons who exercise strenuously, although we aren’t sure exactly why. Quality sleep is important. And stress management is a must!
We often find ourselves chasing and targeting individual symptoms when we have chronic disease. If we take a step back and simply focus on the nutrition and lifestyle strategies that support healthy mitochondria, we restore the health of the trunk … the rest of the tree will follow.