Mitochondria are amazing cellular compartments that create energy from the food we eat and the air we breathe. They convert fats and sugars from foods into cellular energy. This energy generated by the mitochondria runs every process the body needs to stay youthful and healthy.
In a healthy five-year-old child, nearly 100% of the mitochondria, or what many people call the “power plants,” are working well. But as we age, free radicals and other age-related forces destroy many of our mitochondria—and leave the ones that remain working at less than optimum efficiency.
As a matter of fact, it’s been estimated that 95% of the mitochondria in a typical 90-year-old person are damaged! Additional statistics show that people over age 70 had 50% more mitochondrial damage than middle-aged persons (1).
So, what happens when our mitochondria become damaged and begin to malfunction? Well, first off, we become tired. Generalized fatigue is a top complaint of aging Americans. The reason for this is quite simple: If your cells lose mitochondria, there’s not enough energy to support all the things you want to do.
Mitochondrial Dysfunction Leads to Disease, Leaves You Tired
A large number of clinical trials reveal the association between mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic age-related diseases. Interestingly, researchers are looking into the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1995, researchers discovered that a genetic variant of the apolipoprotein, called Apo-E4, is associated with a high probability of developing Alzheimer’s. This genetic variant seems to cause mitochondrial dysfunction by disrupting the membrane potential inside the mitochondria. This membrane potential is what drives the production of the energy molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (2).
People with the Apo-E4 variant subsequently develop mitochondrial dysfunction and have a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This has led neurologists to conclude that dysfunctional mitochondria and loss of brain cell energy production are underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease (2).
So now, we can add Alzheimer’s to the growing list of chronic diseases linked to mitochondrial dysfunction.
What about feeling tired all of the time? Well, that can be a sign of mitochondrial dysfunction as well.
When fatigued, if the body doesn’t have enough energy to maintain and repair itself, it becomes more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, memory loss and other health problems.
So it’s kind of a vicious cycle: Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to fatigue, and chronic fatigue can increase the risk of chronic age-related diseases. Chronic disease results in more mitochondrial dysfunction.
Now for the really exciting part: we can actually get our bodies to make new mitochondria.
Three Levels of Mitochondrial Support
As we discussed, the mitochondria are known as the cell’s powerhouses, generating energy for all of the important cellular functions.
Sugars and oxygen inside the mitochondria are processed and, through a series of reactions, synthesize ATP. ATP is then distributed throughout the cell to run all of the chemical reactions. Without it, the cell cannot function and will die. This is why doctors believe that mitochondrial longevity has a direct impact on overall longevity.
Here’s the problem: Most of the damaging effects from sugar, called glycation, and from oxygen, called oxidative stress, occur within the mitochondria. The result is fewer and less effective powerhouses. So, we need to support mitochondria with protectors, enhancers and generators.
Let’s look at protectors first. Antioxidants have been shown to help protect or at least delay the mitochondria from degrading and sustaining damage. A daily dose of these nutrients will go a long way in helping to reverse fatigue and fight against age-related diseases.
Along with antioxidants, consider antiglycation nutrients. They will help to minimize the damaging effects of sugar and glycation reactions within the mitochondria.
So, here are the mitochondrial protectors:
1. The antioxidants lipoic acid, pomegranate extract, resveratrol and grape seed extracts.
2. The antiglycation nutrients pyridoxal-5’-phosphate (a special form of B6), a small protein called carnosine and a fat-soluble form of B1 called benfotiamine.
Enhancers directly impact the production of ATP. These nutrients are also called “energy co-factors” and help sustain cellular energy cycles inside mitochondria. I suggest the following three nutrients to ramp-up ATP production:
1. Ubiquinol CoQ10
But, what about generating new mitochondria? It’s one thing to protect and enhance existing mitochondria, but another to make brand new ones.
Traditionally, making new ones could only occur with strenuous exercise and extreme calorie restriction...until now! An essential nutrient discovered in the 1970s, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), plays a critical role across a range of basic life functions.
Generating New Mitochondria with PQQ
As an ultra-potent antioxidant, PQQ provides extraordinary defense against mitochondrial decay. As a matter of fact, PQQ’s chemical structure enables it to withstand up to 5,000 times greater exposure to oxidation than vitamin C (3).
But the most exciting revelation about PQQ emerged early in 2010 when researchers found it not only protected mitochondria from oxidative damage, it also stimulated the growth of new mitochondria (4)!
PQQ has been shown to be a potent growth factor in plants, bacteria and higher organisms. Pre-clinical studies reveal that when deprived of dietary PQQ, animals exhibit stunted growth, compromised immunity, impaired reproductive capability and, most importantly, fewer mitochondria in their cells (5).
When PQQ is re-introduced into the diet, it reverses these effects, restoring systemic function while simultaneously increasing mitochondrial number and energy efficiency (6).
Taking between 10–20 mg/day of PQQ may help generate new mitochondria and round out a nutritional strategy for supporting existing mitochondria.
And, remember: The more mitochondria you have, the more cellular energy you’ll have and the better you’ll likely feel for many years to come.
Supporting Mitochondria Provides Lasting Energy
Protectors, enhancers and generators of mitochondria will ultimately result in one thing: More cellular energy production. And more cellular energy is the solution to feeling tired all of the time and reversing the risk of age-related disease.
So, forget the highly caffeinated and sugary drinks, which only rev up the brain and heart. Instead, support your cells’ powerhouses—the mitochondria. With each mitochondria producing more energy, you’ll have more pep in your step and less of a chance of developing chronic disease.
Living Healthier, Longer by Reversing Mitochondrial Decay
Mitochondrial dysfunction has definitively been linked to virtually all killer diseases of aging, from Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes to heart failure. It’s even linked to exercise intolerance and chronic fatigue.
Researchers have recorded evidence of greater mitochondrial damage in all cells of humans over 70 compared to those in their early 40s. The health and function of these cellular energy generators is now considered so vital that many scientists believe mitochondrial longevity determines overall longevity in aging humans.
In a revolutionary advance, the essential coenzyme PQQ has been shown to induce mitochondrial biogenesis (i.e., the growth of new mitochondria in aging cells).
PQQ activates genes that govern mitochondrial reproduction, protection and repair. PQQ also affords potent cardioprotection and optimal defense against nerve cell degeneration. Published studies show that 20 mg of PQQ may reverse age-related conditions like cognitive decline in aging humans.
Should PQQ be added to your shoppers’ daily regimen? I sure think so; they will feel better and could live healthier, longer. WF
Michael A. Smith, M.D. is senior health scientist with Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He is also host of the Healthy Talk radio show on www.RadioMD.com and Life Extension video magazine at www.LEF.org/videomag.
1. A.W. Linnane, S. Kovalenko and E.B. Gingold, “The Universality of Bioenergetic Disease: Age-Associated Cellular Bioenergetic Degradation And Amelioration Therapy,” Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 854, 202–213 (1998).
2. K. Leuner et al., “Peripheral Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Alzheimer’s Disease: Focus on Lymphocytes,” Mol. Neurobiol. 46 (1), 194–204 (2012).
3. R. Rucker, W. Chowanadisai and M. Nakano, “Potential Physiological Importance of Pyrroloquinoline Quinone,” Altern. Med. Rev. 14 (3), 268–277 (2009).
4. W. Chowanadisai, et al., “Pyrroloquinoline Quinone Stimulates Mitochondrial Biogenesis through Camp Response Element-Binding Protein Phosphorylation And Increased Pgc-1alpha Expression,” J. Biol. Chem. 285 (1), 142–152 (2010).
5. Life Extension Magazine® Super Sale Edition 2010/2011.
6. T.E. Stites, A.E. Mitchell and R.B. Rucker, “Physiological Importance of Quinoenzymes and the O-Quinone Family of Cofactors,” J. Nutr. 130 (4), 719–727 (2000).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2014