Mitochondrial function is one of the most important metrics of whole body health. And while most fitness-minded adults know that mitochondria are important for energy metabolism, what they don’t know is when it comes to the disease prevention and longevity game, total numbers count. So, here is some interesting information about mitochondrial physiology and function along with the top tips for boosting mitochondria numbers.
Mitochondria – The Power Grid of the Body
Mitochondria are located in almost every cell type and tissue in the human body, from the brain to your thyroid gland to your Achilles tendon. In short – trillions of mitochondria are distributed throughout the body with the sole purpose of generating ATP…the fuel that provides energy to pump your heart, power neurons in the brain, contract muscles in your limbs, exchange gases in the lungs, extract nutrients from food…and much more. Simply stated, without a sufficient amount of ATP, life would cease to exist.
Interestingly, muscles contain the highest amount of mitochondrial content of any tissue in the body. In healthy muscles, mitochondria appear very close together. Can you guess why? You need massive amounts of ATP in the muscles to do hard exercise, and the best way to quickly distribute energy across thousands of cells is through a massive, interconnected network. It’s like a power grid, and it’s on 24 x 7.
Power Grid Disruptions
Unfortunately, every chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and researchers have noted "This connectivity puts the body’s energy conversion system at risk because damaged elements jeopardize the entire network."  Think about the top two conditions that impact most mature adults today.
In other words, muscle atrophy and insulin resistance have a tendency to impact the grid making energy production and distribution unpredictable.
Fortunately, there is a fail-safe within the body for grid disruptions. Inside the heart and skeletal muscle mitochondrial grids, for example, are smaller sub-networks that function like a circuit breaker. In fact, researchers studied 3D images and used light-activated probes to examine mouse heart muscle and skeletal muscle cells to reveal that inter-mitochondrial junctions (IMJs) quickly cut off faulty mitochondria, preserving the integrity of the power grid as a whole . Specifically, experts noted, "In both cardiac and SKM [skeletal muscle] subnetworks, a rapid electrical and physical separation of malfunctioning mitochondria occurs…allowing the remaining mitochondria to resume normal function within seconds."
Putting More Back Into the Grid
So, how do you keep your energy grid in tip-top shape? Here are some tips:
Lastly, there's one more micro nutrient that I would recommend you explore, and that’s nicotinamide riboside (NR). It’s a version of B3 (niacin) and the precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) ... a co-enzyme which increases mitochondrial energy production and distribution and supports mitochondrial biogenesis. It's actually one of those super-co-enzymes that:
The most common food sources of nicotinamide riboside are cow’s milk, whey protein and brewer’s yeast, but food sensitivities can make these choices unfeasible for some adults. Supplementation is the next best option, and Tom Malterre (Functional Medicine Nutritionist) recommends Niacel by Thorne Research. Just 1 capsule (125 mg/day) is enough, and safety studies reported no adverse effect for levels of 300 mg/day. Personally, I find 1 capsule (2-3x a week) aids in my recovery, so it’s one of my “go to” strategies.
Bottom line…while it’s great that the body has built-in safety mechanisms to cut off faulty mitochondria from the rest of the grid, don’t stop there. Think more is better, and follow a multi-pronged approach to improve your mitochondrial health and numbers.
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