Are you running on empty?
Your mitochondria are tiny energy factories found in every single cell of your body. When they aren’t fully charged, you’ll lack energy and feel fatigued. If you’re sleepwalking through life or experiencing seemingly unrelated symptoms affecting your wellbeing, your cellular batteries could be empty.
In a previous blog we looked at what your mitochondria need to function well.
Let’s now go on to discover factors which can interfere with the efficiency of your energy factories. Then you can understand what might be causing your batteries to run down.
More Than Energy Generation
Although your mitochondria are crucial for energy production, problems with their functioning don’t only affect energy. They’re closely involved with your immune system – by triggering immune reactions, affecting how your immune system tells between friend and foe, and regulating the survival of immune cells. So your energy factories can determine how susceptible you are to infection and autoimmune diseases.
Mitochondria also play a role in regulating cell lifespan and therefore ageing and chronic disease. If damaged mitochondria are not properly cleared away by your body’s refuse collectors, they can increase inflammation. Mitochondria have their own DNA, and mutations have been implicated in many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
Your Delicate Mitochondria
Your mitochondria are amazing little powerhouses of energy production, but they’re also very fragile, meaning they’re easily damaged.
Mitochondria are surrounded by an inner and an outer membrane playing a direct role in energy production by allowing the passage of electrons. These membranes also prevent toxins entering and ensure nutrients needed for energy production can access where they’re needed.
Anything damaging these membranes can affect mitochondrial efficiency.
- Oxidative Stress
When food is burned with oxygen in your mitochondria, by-products called free radicals are produced. These metabolic waste products from energy production are unstable molecules, creating a chain reaction of damage from oxidation. They turn other substances into free radicals, a knock-on process which won’t stop unless they can be neutralised. This process is particularly harmful to mitochondrial membranes and eventually reduces energy production.
If the membrane is damaged by oxidation and becomes permeable, free radicals can leak across into the cell.
Because oxidation is a by-product of energy production, it’s impossible to prevent. So cells have developed a mechanism to stop it in its tracks by neutralising free radicals with antioxidants, obtained from plant foods.
It’s easy to see how a shortage of antioxidants can directly lead to mitochondrial damage and reductions in energy production. In the process of neutralising free radicals, antioxidants give up one of their electrons and become free radicals themselves. So they need to be neutralised by another antioxidant.
Because antioxidants protect each other, it’s important to make sure you’re getting a wide range. An easy way to support your mitochondria is to cover half your plate at every meal with a rainbow of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables.
Toxins from the environment, food and water slow down the process of creating energy. The membranes of your mitochondria contain fats. These can accumulate environmental pollutants from industry and agriculture as well as toxic metals, affecting the function of the membrane.
Reduce your toxic load by switching to natural cleaning and personal care products and avoiding plastic wherever possible.
Keeping your liver in tip-top condition helps you metabolise toxins, while a healthy gut is important as a first line of defence.
Psychological stress has been found in research to alter the functioning of mitochondria, reducing their ability to produce energy. Acute stress can damage the structure of your cells’ energy factories within the space of a few hours. Changes in mitochondrial DNA have been seen in people with depression, anxiety and who have experienced traumatic events.
You can’t control how much stress you encounter, but you can learn to manage your reaction to stress.
Alcohol affects mitochondrial function because your mitochondria are involved in converting alcohol into less harmful substances.
Your energy factories will thank you for reducing alcohol or avoiding it altogether in favour of refreshing drinks like kefir, kombucha and fresh fruit spritzers.
- Prescription Drugs
Many prescription drugs, including antibiotics, aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can damage mitochondria, while statin drugs deplete Co-Enzyme Q10, used by mitochondria to help produce energy.
Medical drugs can be lifesavers but they don’t address the cause of illness, only masking the symptoms.
Functional Medicine to Restore your Energy
If you wish you had more energy, Functional Medicine aims to discover the causes of your symptoms.
Functional tests measure substances indicating damage to your mitochondria, discovering how your batteries came to be depleted. Tests can also measure oxidative stress and look for the presence of toxic elements which may be affecting your energy batteries.