Author: Bonnie Bayley
Why mitochondria matter
As cell organelles (which means ‘little organs’), mitochondria perform specific functions for your cells, just as your organs perform functions for your body. One of their most important functions is generating energy. In fact, mitochondria are responsible for the final steps of metabolising organic substances such as food into energy, in the form of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 1
While mitochondria are typically thought of as sausage shaped, they are actually very dynamic, frequently dividing, fusing and changing shape and size. 2 As well as generating energy, mitochondria also store calcium for cell signalling activities, they break down and recycle waste products, plus they play a special role in removing damaged or redundant cells, through a process called ‘apoptosis’.
Your mitochondria are also important for healthy cardiovascular function. Heart muscle cells actually contain more mitochondria than any other organ in your body, to meet the high energy demand of your constantly beating heart.
Nutrients that support mitochondrial health
Because mitochondrial function underpins everything that happens in your body and is a major source of energy (which most of us want more of!), it makes sense to take good care of your cellular powerhouses. Along with a balanced, wholefoods-based diet, there are specific nutrients that may help support mitochondrial health.
The antioxidant coenzyme Q10 is used by the mitochondria to help support energy production, as well as helping to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Alpha lipoic acid is another antioxidant which helps to promote healthy mitochondrial function, assisting in the production of ATP, the ‘energy currency’ within the cells. Joining the star nutrient line-up is acetyl-L-carnitine, which helps shuttle long-chain fatty acids, such as omega-3s, into the mitochondria, where they are used for energy synthesis.
Also useful are the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and thiamin, thanks to their role in the electron transport chain in the mitochondria, along with vitamin E, which helps protect mitochondrial membranes.
All up, getting the right nutritional support can help boost your mitochondrial health and your body’s energy production.
1. McInnes J. Mitochondrial-associated metabolic disorders: foundations, pathologies and recent progress. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2013; 10: 63. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3853754/
2. Jakobs S. High resolution imaging of live mitonchondria. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Cell Research, Vol 1763, Iss 5–6, May–June 2006, p561–575.