Why Are Mitochondria So Important?5 min read time
Mitochondria are found in almost every cell of the human body. Why are they so vital?
Mitochondria are important because they generate the vital energy necessary for the functioning and survival of the organism. They are responsible for the production of cellular energy (ATP) and the regulation of cell death. Healthy mitochondria are critical to maintaining good health, and mitochondrial dysfunction is related to early aging and almost all degenerative and age-related diseases.
Given that mitochondria are the energy producers in the cell, it’s hardly surprising that:
Cells that require the most energy
contain the highest number of mitochondria.
For example, because of how much energy is required for a human to develop an embryo, the mature egg cell has the highest number of mitochondria among human cells – up to 600,000 mitochondria per cell.
Muscle, liver, heart, and brain cells also have a large number of mitochondria. In fact, red blood cells are the only human cells that do not contain any mitochondria.
But, there’s more to mitochondria than energy production and studying these tiny little organs (called “organelles”) has become an important subject of ongoing biomedical research.
Let's look at some of the vital roles mitochondria play in the cells.
The Important Functions of Mitochondria
1. Production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)
ATP is a complex organic chemical found in all forms of life. As such, it’s often referred to as the “energy currency” of cells. Because ATP cannot be stored, the mitochondria must continually produce a large amount of it every second of every day.
Most ATP is produced in mitochondria through a series of chemical reactions which metabolizes nutrients into by-products that cells can then use for energy. All this action occurs in and across the mitochondrial membrane and is essential for the proper functioning of the body.
2. Mitochondrial Regulation of Cell Death
Mitochondria are essential for life and health. Paradoxically, they're also necessary for initiating cell death. Cells must be destroyed when they age or degrade. If the DNA of dead cells is not cleared away or cleared fast enough, it can lead to or worsen many diseases, including cancer and autoimmune diseases.
In most organisms, mitochondria play a crucial role in apoptosis or cell death. The permeability of the mitochondrial outer membrane is what decides which cells have to be destroyed.
3. Mitochondrial Effects on Aging and Longevity
A reduction in the quality and activity of mitochondria is associated with the normal aging process. And accelerated mitochondrial dysfunction leads to accelerated aging and age-related diseases.
As cells age, damaged mitochondria produce less energy (ATP) and have increased oxidative stress which is why there’s typically a significant drop in energy after age 55.
As a matter of fact, the better a species is at protecting its mitochondria, the longer it lives. One primary way to protect mitochondria from oxidative or free radical damage is the use of mitochondrial supportive nutrients (more on this later).
What Causes Damage to Mitochondria?
Many factors are associated with increased mitochondrial damage, including:
- Aging (which is actually accumulated oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA)
- Toxic metals and environmental pollutants
- Too much alcohol consumption
- Genetic susceptibility
- Pharmaceutical drugs such as antibiotics, acetaminophen, aspirin, indomethacin, statins, NSAIDs, and hard drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine
Mitochondria are especially sensitive to nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxins, and oxidative stress because, unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA does not possess strong DNA repair mechanisms.
Disorders Associated with Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Some common symptoms, diseases, and disorders associated with mitochondrial dysfunction include:
- Muscle weakness and loss of muscle coordination
- Early aging
- Congestive heart failure
- Eye diseases
- Autoimmune diseases
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Huntington’s disease
- Migraine headaches
- Parkinson’s disease
Some Nutrients that Protect Mitochondrial Health
Coenzyme Q10, or Q1o, is a chemical found in almost every cell of the human body. It’s a vital intra-mitochondrial antioxidant that counters the effects of oxidative stress and plays a crucial role in energy (ATP) production.
Acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid
These are mitochondrial cofactors that, when used together, increase ATP production. They have also shown promise in the treatment of neuro-cognitive decline associated with aging and mood disorders.
As it turns out, that glass of wine may just be a good idea.
Resveratrol, which is found in red wine, has been shown to decrease free radical damage in mitochondria and increase the production of ATP. It also clears beta-amyloid from Alzheimer’s disease cells.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that also protects your mitochondria from oxidative stress. Some natural sources of vitamin E include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, peanuts, and salmon. But to get a sufficient amount of vitamin E daily, most people need to supplement.
N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
NAC is an important nutrient that increases the production of glutathione, one of your body’s most powerful antioxidants. Glutathione is crucial in the protection of mitochondria from oxidative damage.
Improving Your Mitochondrial Function
To improve mitochondrial function, it's crucial to optimize nutrients that reduce mitochondrial oxidative damage and increase ATP production such as those mentioned above.
It’s also important to reduce stress, decrease exposure to toxins, and build muscle mass because increasing muscle actually increases the production of cellular energy (ATP).
All of Lean Factor’s natural supplements are specifically designed to support healthy mitochondria function because they contain many important nutrients that protect your mitochondria as well as other natural ingredients that relieve stress and increase cellular energy. Below are Lean Factor’s most popular supplements:
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- Pizzorno, Joseph. "Mitochondria—fundamental to life and health." Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal 13.2 (2014): 8.
- Haskett, Dorothy R. "Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)." Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2014).
- Soczynska, Joanna K., et al. "Acetyl-L-carnitine and α-lipoic acid: possible neurotherapeutic agents for mood disorders?." Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs 17.6 (2008): 827-84