Mitochondrial Health

Mitochondrial Health is Key to Degenerative Disease Prevention and Longevitymitochondrial-health

All cells depend on mitochondria for their energy, and absent that, things quickly go downhill. But what are mitochondria exactly?

Mitochondria – A Very Strange Tale

Two billion years ago, the living world was divided into archaea and bacteria. Until a couple of decades ago, archaea were considered to be a variant bacteria. We would be pressed to tell them apart, but the biologist wanted it this way. So now we have a primordial sea teeming with two very similar looking microscopic life forms.

Little decisions can have major consequences.

One fine day, an archaea, out for a leisurely swim, decided to take a lunch break. A bacteria happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was duly engulfed by our archaea. The bacteria had to think fast. “Look”, it said, “You don’t seem to be so good at making energy. I am. I happen to be a new model bacteria with a very advanced energy production system You don’t seem to be so hot at this. Let’s cut a deal. Spare me and I will make you boatloads of energy. You can do whatever you want with it.”  (Cells actually do communicate, but we are taking a bit of literary license here.) The archaea considered it. Indeed, it had felt really sluggish lately. Maybe with a nice shot of energy, it could find a lot more food. Furthermore, that thing is a bacteria and can divide and make even more energy. “Deal”, he said. They shook flagella on it and thus was born the first eukaryote. The newly enslaved bacteria was renamed mitochondria.

mitochondrial-health-lunch-dealThe mitochondrial slaves made good on their side of the deal, dividing and dividing, and producing quite an excess of energy. The newly born eukaryote also divided each time splitting the mitochondrial crew amongst the new eukaryotes.

What a colossal deal. The eukaryotes grew and prospered, eventually becoming multicellular, with elaborate multiple strands of DNA. The stalwart mitochondria remained in place, hanging on to their own separate genome, duly maintaining it in its bacterial like DNA loop. And 24/7: energy – energy – energy.

From this apocryphal lunch sprang all multicellular life the world has to offer: sponges, plants, animals, and finally, us. We are a eukaryote, along with every other living thing we can see.

We higher forms of life are all ‘infested’ with these mitochondria. And we pay a terrible penance for this enslavement. These little energy generators are not us. They have still their own DNA, their own genome. Theirs is not as sophisticated as ours, not as fool proof. Mitochondria wear out, and when they do, they divide into worn out copies, don’t work well, and, like a sputtering old engine, spew toxic junk into the surrounding cell (the infamous free-radicals). Mitochondria only last a few weeks, so they need to divide fairly often. Even cells that never divide, like neurons, have mitochondria that do. Mitochondrial damage, especially when it gets replicated, is a major basis of aging, perhaps the most significant one.

How inevitable is this? Does the mortality of our mitochondria seal our fate? Sort of, but we do have a say in the matter.

Larger animals live longer. Primates, which will include most readers of this post, live longer still. The tiny mammals, like mice, live only a couple of years or so, yet one of the tiniest, the common bat, is a huge exception. Bats have such a charged up metabolism that they soon starve without a nightly haul of a third their weight in bugs. You’d think such a revved-up precarious existence would burn out in a few months at most, but strikingly, a bat lives up to 25 years, ten-fold the lifespan of a mouse, their near mass equivalent.mitochondrial-health-bat2

We aren’t bats, but the reason behind their impressive longevity has everything to do with our goal of achieving a long and healthy life. Birds live long too, by the way, and the key for both is flying. A huge surge of energy is required to take off and fly and the only way to generate that burst of energy is by having a lot of very healthy mitochondria. It is the number and quality of these mitochondria that enable the bats to live so long and have all that energy up to the end.

At the other extreme, an environment where cells are overloaded with macronutrients but underworked is a very unhealthy one for mitochondria. They tend to malfunction and spew toxic junk – the infamous free-radicals – into the cells. This causes inflammation, which is the immune system response to a sick cell, but without fixing the root causes of the problem, inflammation only makes things worse.

Inflammation kills. Free-radical damage and inflammation are implicated in:

  • Agingmitochondrial-health-free-radical
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cataracts
  • Liver injury
  • Impotence
  • Arthritis

If inflammation is reduced enough, the body begins to heal.  This is a principal tenet of Quantitative Medicine.

Toward Mitochondrial Health

We have evolved a lot of house cleaning mechanisms to clear out defective or inflamed cells, and have, to some extent, done so for our vulnerable mitochondria as well, but they are still the weak link in the process. Taking care of mitochondrial health, and minimizing the production of free-radicals is a fundamental priority.

The mitochondria are healthiest when demands are made on them to produce energy. Their tiny energy producing assembly line gets clogged up when they are too idle. This again leads to the notorious free-radical production along with a cascade of other undesirable problems. This is an unexpected result. You would expect an active mitochondria that is generating a lot of energy would generate a commensurate amount of pollution. But, as soon as the mitochondria get really busy, the free-radical production plummets. Here, at the sub-cellular level, is yet another reason to exercise and it even begins to describe the most effective exercise to undertake.

Bat and bird mitochondria, besides being plentiful, get frequent workouts from flying. This keeps the molecular machinery well oiled and running smoothly. These lucky animals get an unexpectedly long life with hardly any aging. They have super mitochondria.

Be kind to your mitochondria. Generate more and improve the function of the ones you’ve got. The Quantitative Medicine protocols, which we will be exploring, are the best possible route to mitochondrial health.

A final note. The rarity of the symbiotic ‘mitochondria lunch deal’ may speak volumes about the prospect of finding life elsewhere. This planet had been a bacterial (and archaeal) soup, with continuous and uncountable encounters, for 2 billion years. Yet the ‘deal’ only happened once. It must, therefore, be very unlikely indeed. So when we are finally visiting the far away galaxies, we may well find an abundance of slime worlds, and little else. (Charlie is more pessimistic on this than I am but I do not discount the probabilities. Dr. Mike)


  1 comment for “Mitochondrial Health

  1. Sri
    February 25, 2015 at 4:56 am

    Great Post Doc!
    Thanks to the migthy mitos, I look and feel younger after fixing my lifestyle

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