Julian Whitaker, MD
Did you know your body's cells host visitors from another time and place? The mitochondria, energy-producing factories in every one of your cells, are descendants of independent, free-living organisms. Mitochondria have unique DNA, separate and distinct from cellular DNA.
Did you know your body's cells host visitors from another time and place? The mitochondria, energy-producing factories in every one of your cells, are descendants of independent, free-living organisms.
Mitochondria have unique DNA, separate and distinct from cellular DNA. Eons ago, they developed a symbiotic relationship with the ancestors of animal cells and eventually became a part of them.
Lucky for us, because mitochondria provide 90 per cent of the energy that fuels cellular activity and keeps us alive. In fact, one of the most intriguing theories of aging focuses on mitochondria. As the machinery of these energy producers breaks down, so too do the cells and organs in which they reside. Therefore, protecting mitochondria from degenerative damage may actually slow aging at its very source.
There are basically two ways to defend your mitochondria: slow production of destructive free radicals and boost antioxidant defences. Let's explore both approaches.
Eat Less, Live Longer
The most powerful way to slow free radical production and the only proven way to increase lifespan in mammals is calorie restriction. Animal studies show that lifespan can be extended by 30 to 40 percent with a nutrient-rich, calorie-restricted diet. Though centenarians in our midst may not have consciously restricted their calories, they have achieved similar results by staying lean.
One of the primary effects of calorie restriction is to make mitochondria more efficient and adaptable to stress. These leaner, meaner mitochondria produce fewer free radicals as they generate more energy than their well-fed cousins.
Boost Antioxidant Defences
Another way to protect your mitochondria is to simply stay lean and take targeted nutritional supplements. First on your list should be alpha lipoic acid, 50 milligrams daily. (Food sources include spinach, broccoli, beef, yeast and kidney.) Unlike other antioxidants, which are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, alpha lipoic acid is both. It passes through fatty cell membranes and into the cells' watery interior, where it can protect the mitochondria and other cellular components from free radicals.
Another unique aspect of alpha lipoic acid is its ability to continue functioning even after it has neutralized a free radical. What's more, alpha lipoic acid regenerates "spent" antioxidants and boosts levels of another important player in mitochondrial function: coenzyme Q10.
Spark Your Cells
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is sometimes referred to as the "sparkplug" of the mitochondrial engine. CoQ10 is found in every plant and animal cell, and in greater amounts in foods such as oily fish (mackerel, salmon) whole grains and organ meats. Small changes in our CoQ10 levels can have significant effects on cellular function. And tissues with the greatest energy demands your heart, muscles and liver are especially vulnerable to CoQ10 depletion.
We all suffer from declining levels of CoQ10 as we age. Fortunately, supplementing with 60 mg of CoQ10 daily is an effective way to give aging mitochondria a boost. CoQ10 is also a potent antioxidant, protecting mitochondrial membranes and DNA from free radical damage. And, like alpha lipoic acid, it helps to regenerate other antioxidants vitamin E, in particular.
While you can't see degenerative changes occurring in your mitochondria, you can certainly feel the effects: flagging energy, weakened immunity and other hallmarks of aging. Taking these steps is a simple way to maintain youthful vigour in every cell of your body.