Boosting Your Body’s Energy Grid

June 26, 2017
Mary Kay

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." [1] Think about the top two conditions that impact most mature adults today.

  • Loss of Muscle Mass – Increased sedentary behavior leads to muscle atrophy which in turn reduces muscle mitochondrial content and function. Since muscle tissue occupies more than 40% of the human body by mass, fewer mitochondria means a reduced ability of muscle mitochondria to burn fatty acids and glucose which contributes to overall feelings of low energy and sluggishness.
  • Insulin Resistance – According to a study published in Jama [2] in 2015, 50% of American adults are insulin resistant, and extensive scientific studies have shown that muscle tissue from subjects with type 2 diabetes are deficient in many crucial aspects of mitochondrial biology, including:

    Reduced quantity of mitochondria [3,4]
    Reduced ability to burn fatty acids and glucose for energy [5,6.7]
    Impaired mitochondrial electron transport chain protein function [8]
    Improper distribution of mitochondria within the muscle tissue [9]
    Impaired mitochondrial gene expression [10]

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 [1]. 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:

  • Irritant Removal: Inflammation, caused by too many irritants, is like a computer hacker that downloads a virus onto your network...overriding all normal functions and safety precautions. So, whenever you detect a new symptom or issue, you need to get on top of if right away before it does serious damage. That means 1) reducing toxins, 2) eating more unprocessed, organic food and 3) practicing intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating) to purge the body of dysfunctional cells.
  • Nutrient Replenishment:  In addition to eating clean food and stabilizing blood glucose levels, it's important to make sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, B vitamins, ubiquinol, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), L-Carnitine and omega-3 fats as these nutrients are needed to ensure mitochondrial enzymes function properly.
  • Cold/Heat Therapy and Exercise:  Dr. Rhonda Patrick (biological scientist) believes exposure to extreme cold (cryotherapy) is one of the best ways to create new mitochondria in fat tissue, followed by exposure to heat (e.g., steam room or sauna) or exercise to make mitochondria in muscle. She says, “These strategies stimulate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator 1 alpha (PGC-1 alpha), which is the primary driver for mitochondrial biogenesis” [11] … the process for creating new mitochondria.

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:

  • Helps fight cancer by protecting cells against DNA damage, oxidative damage and tumor progression
  • Helps stabilize glucose metabolism and/or reduce diabetic symptoms
  • Helps preserve nerve cells thereby improving cognitive function and/or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Protects the liver by inhibiting fat accumulation, lowering oxidative stress and improving insulin sensitivity
  • Helps prevent hearing loss by reducing the deterioration of nerve cells caused by high-noise exposure
  • Helps re-program dysfunctional cells and generate the production of stem cells which are important for improved longevity

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.

[1] Glancy, B., et al. Power Grid Protection of the Muscle Mitochondrial Reticulum. Cell Reports. 10, 487-498 (2017).
[2] Menke, A., Casagrande, S., Greiss, L., et al. Prevalence of and Trends in Diabetes Among Adults in the United States, 1988-2012. Jama. (2015).
[3] Martins, A. R. et al. Mechanisms underlying skeletal muscle insulin resistance induced by fatty acids: importance of the mitochondrial function. Lipids Health Dis. 11, 30 (2012).
[4] Silveira, L. R. et al. Updating the effects of fatty acids on skeletal muscle. J. Cell. Physiol. 217, 1–12 (2008).
[5] Sreekumar, R. & Nair, K. S. Skeletal muscle mitochondrial dysfunction & diabetes. Indian J. Med. Res. 125, 399–410 (2007).
[6] Kelley, D. E., He, J., Menshikova, E. V. & Ritov, V. B. Dysfunction of mitochondria in human skeletal muscle in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 51, 2944–2950 (2002).
[7] Kelley, D. E. Skeletal muscle fat oxidation: timing and flexibility are everything. J. Clin. Invest. 115, 1699–1702 (2005).
[8] Ritov, V. B. et al. Deficiency of electron transport chain in human skeletal muscle mitochondria in type 2 diabetes mellitus and obesity. Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab. 298, E49–58 (2010).
[9] Ritov, V. B. et al. Deficiency of subsarcolemmal mitochondria in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 54, 8–14 (2005).
[10] Sreekumar, R., Halvatsiotis, P., Schimke, J. C. & Nair, K. S. Gene expression profile in skeletal muscle of type 2 diabetes and the effect of insulin treatment. Diabetes 51, 1913–1920 (2002).
[11] Dr. Mercola. The surprising health benefits of extreme hot and cold temperatures (2016).


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