Why Taking Care Of Your Mitochondria Is Vital

Why Taking Care Of Your Mitochondria Is Vital

Fatigue is one the top problems I see in my clinics. Many of my patients rely on multiple caffeinated drinks and energy drinks to get through the day. Does that sound familiar?

People frequently see their doctors because of fatigue. However, the evaluation often reveals nothing amiss, and the physician simply tells the patient that she’ll feel better soon.

Unfortunately, the fatigue continues. When people suffering from fatigue appear in my clinic, I often find that the root cause of their fatigue is poor functioning of their mitochondria. To reverse the fatigue and feel better, these patients need a mitochondrial tuneup.

Before any changes are made, it’s important to explain what mitochondria are so that my patients understand exactly what their cells need to perform well. The mitochondria are the tiny sub-units in the cell that convert the energy stored in the foods we eat into ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. We need ATP to power all the other chemistry that our cells do so we can move, growth, think and everything else required to live. When our mitochondria are unhealthy, they don’t produce as much ATP as our cells need to be robust and to make our whole bodies healthy. We, and our energy levels, are critically dependent on having vigorous mitochondria.

The cells that use the most energy, including those in our brain, our retina and our heart, contain tens of thousands of mitochondria each. If our mitochondria are efficiently producing ATP, our cells can function well. But when mitochondria are not producing sufficient ATP, our cells function less and less effectively. This often translates into slowly declining energy.

The first thing I do for those who report fatigue is review their medication list, because many medications, if taken chronically, can damage mitochondria. Next, I review the quality of their diet and consider whether they may have been exposed to compounds that can poison our mitochondria.

Mitochondria need all the B vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, and sulfur. They also need coenzyme Q, but our ability to make coenzyme Q declines sharply after age 50. Mitochondria require plenty of antioxidants, which protect them from the free radicals generated during the production of ATP.

Another potential problem for mitochondria is chronic use of antibiotics. Because mitochondria are really ancient bacteria that were incorporated into cells 1.5 billion years ago, they share many features with bacteria and may be damaged by overuse of antibiotics.

Here’s how to start a mitochondrial tuneup right now:

1. Drop sugary and white flour-based products. 

The empty calories in these foods contribute to mitochondrial starvation.

2. Eat more vegetables, berries, and high-quality protein, including organ meat, at least once a week, and eat seaweed once a week.

This will increase nutrient density — that means you’ll get more of the vitamins, minerals and essential fats that your mitochondria need to thrive.

3. Lower pesticide intake. 

To do this, consult the Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen. These documents detail pesticide residues in food and help you decide which foods to obtain organically. Reducing the poisons that interfere with the effectiveness of the mitochondria will help you feel better.

These three steps can have a dramatic impact on your mitochondria and help restore your energy. And if you want to learn more about mitochondria, the health of your cells, and what you can do to feel better, take my Food Fundamentals online video course. In it, I discuss more about how the health of our mitochondria impacts the health of our cells, our organs and our entire bodies. I also discuss how medications taken to lower cholesterol, decrease stomach acid, prevent pregnancy, or treat diabetes can deplete our bodies of key nutrients that our mitochondria need to perform at peak capacity. Ultimately, the key to health is feeding your cells and your mitochondria the building blocks they need to thrive, and removing the poisons that can slow them down.

Health, vitality and a life filled with energy begins with eating greens, sulfur-rich vegetables, and deeply colored vegetables and berries. It begins with the food you eat every day, the food that helps your mitochondria function. Food is the most powerful intervention that exists to restore people’s energy and vitality, and can be medicine or poison, depending on your choices.

Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she teaches internal medicine residents, sees patients in a traumatic brain injury clinic, and conducts clinical trials.