By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
If you’re feeling tired and burned out, it may be time to look beyond low iron, low B12 levels and thyroid hormones. You have probably heard about mitochondria, but may not know how important they are to your health and especially your energy levels.
Mitochondria are the energy centres of your cells, and we have over 100,000 trillion in our body to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), our major fuel that supports every body function. When mitochondria are functioning poorly, fatigue is the most common symptom.
This issue is that mitochondria are very sensitive to damage – from oxidative stress, toxins, infections, stress, allergens, alcohol, sedentary lifestyle and poor quality food. When they are damaged, the classic signs are: pain, drain, and brain. This means body and muscle pain, fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and neurological issues. Another hallmark sign is that these symptoms tend to be significantly exacerbated by “minor” triggers like stress, illness, toxin exposure, or anesthesia.
Conditions associated with mitochondria issues:
- Neuropathic pain
- Muscle wasting
- Dementia / cognitive decline
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Premature ovarian failure
Protecting your mitochondria:
There are so many lifestyle factors that can both protect your mitochondria from damage. Here is a list of extracts that especially protect from oxidative stress. Many of these can be included as regular additions to your diet.
- Sulforaphane from broccoli
- Curcumin from turmeric
- Resvertrol from grape skin
- Carnosol from rosemary
- Green tea polyphenols
- Supplements such as Ginkgo biloba, milk thistle, alpha lipoid acid, melatonin, quercitin and bee propolis
Specifically, all of these foods and extracts induce a chemical known as “NRF2” (transcription factor NF-E2 p45-related factor 2), a master regulator of cellular homeostasis.
Boosting mitochondria biogenesis:
To regenerate mitochochondria function and boost your energy, there are additional steps you can take:
- Regular exercise – the amount of movement depends on your current health and energy levels, but it is absolutely key to restore mitochondria function no matter how tired you are at the start. If you are relatively fit already, interval training and strength training have the greatest impact.
- Fasting and calorie restriction – when done carefully, both can be extremely useful in restoring mitochondria function. These must be done carefully, especially with hormones in mind!
- Boosting the amount of vegetables in your diet, especially with a variety of colours greatly increases the amount of antioxidants and micronutrients. Remember the list above – these all protect mitochondria function.
- Including healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from fish which support mitochondria membrane repair. Omega-3 fats are found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, flax seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds.
- There are many supplements that target mitochondria function, including Coenzyme Q10, Resveratrol, Alpha lipoid acid, N-acetyl cysteine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine and more.
If you have one of the conditions listed above, or have noticed that hallmark sign of frequent exacerbated by triggers like stress, illness, toxin exposure, or anesthesia, it may be time to explore mitochondria function next.
Since mitochondria are so sensitive to damage, it is extremely common to have some degree of mitochondria dysfunction with every chronic illness. If fatigue, brain fog and chronic pain are part of your symptom picture, shifting the focus to addressing mitochondria can make a huge impact on your recovery and well-being. Let’s explore this further! In the meantime, all of the usual advice such as boosting antioxidants through diet, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and reducing toxins exposure can start the process right now.
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