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When patients tell me they’re feeling wiped out, exhausted and dragging through their days, often it’s because they’re not treating their mitochondria right. Most people don’t realize it but mitochondria play a massive role in their energy levels, how well their metabolism functions and even how much brain fog they deal with every day.
In a nutshell, your mitochondria are the trillions of microscopic energy factories that power your body, turning the food you eat and the air you breathe into the energy that powers the biochemical reactions in your cells. That energy is used for everything from flexing muscles to making essential enzymes and hormones.
So, if you’re pummeling your mitochondria daily with a litany of bad habits you won’t have enough energy on hand to power your day. Crappy food, poor sleep, high stress levels and an office-chair-to-couch-potato lifestyle all decrease mitochondrial health and limit energy production.
When we’re young, we have plenty of mitochondria. But, as with every other system in the body, over time, our mitochondria decline in both size and number – and with it, much of the energy we once took for granted. In fact, researchers now think mitochondrial decline is one of the primary drivers of aging – of feeling tired and looking tired – and a major culprit behind the diseases of the brain and the cardiovascular system that impact so many people as they age.
But the good news is that we do have some control over how fast or slow we age. A lot of it comes down to how well we treat our mitochondria. Not surprisingly, many of the healthy habits I encourage everyone to adopt to sustain health are, at the microscopic level, great for your mitochondria too. So, to support and manage your mighty ‘mitos’ I recommend the following mitochondria-boosting moves.
How to increase mitochondrial health
1) Don’t eat crap — particularly the stuff that spikes blood sugar.
Say ‘no’ to sugar, refined grains (think flour), even the whole grains people think of as healthy. Each spikes blood sugar and contributes to unwanted pounds and body fat – which, in turn, promotes mitochondria-crushing inflammation. In addition, try to keep your diet ‘clean’ by avoiding processed foods, pesticide-laden produce, and factory-farmed foods meats.
2) Feed your mitochondria well.
While the mitochondria can use either fatty acids or carbohydrates to create the ATP needed to produce energy, using fat is more efficient and creates fewer free radical byproducts. Keeping your carb intake low so your mitochondria will burn fat for energy, will help keep you trim to boot.
Look for foods packed with vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants. That means high-quality, pasture-raised animals, wild-caught fish, (preferably) organic veggies, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and some low-sugar fruits. And, you can’t go wrong loading up on leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
3) Get into intermittent fasting.
To boost mitochondrial function and longevity, practicing intermittent fasting a few days a week is a great ‘bio hack’ that supports mitochondria health by reducing mitochondrial free radical production. How to do it: Compress your ‘eating window’ from the typical 12 -16-hour graze-all-day routine down to 8-hours. You’ll eat dinner earlier and breakfast later – and give your body many more non-eating hours.
4) Keep moving!
Need another reason to exercise? Your mitochondria love it. Get into a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) groove that will boost mitochondrial production, and minimize the risk of overtraining and mitochondrial damage. A regular HITT routine will build up muscular endurance as well as the number and size of the mitochondria that power those muscles, so don’t just sit there – move for your mitochondria!
5) Add meditation and massage to your routine.
Recent research suggests that meditation and other relaxation-based techniques can reduce oxidative stress – and that means, as time passes, less damage to the mitochondria. And don’t forget to relax your body too. One recent study showed that massage could give the body’s production of mitochondria a boost.
6) Focus on good quality sleep.
Sleep protects your brain by clearing out neural waste products that build up daily and, the research suggests, preserves the mitochondria as well. Think of sleep as your brain’s time to ‘take out the garbage,’ so don’t cut corners on this mitochondria-protecting activity.
7) Soak up some sun.
Don’t be afraid to catch a few rays every now and then. Exposing your body to sensible amounts of sunlight (turning pink means you’ve overdone it) is nature’s way of increasing mitochondria production.
8) Expose yourself to the cold.
Another way to trigger new mitochondrial production is to expose yourself to quick bursts of cold temperatures, be it in the great outdoors for 20 -30 seconds a shot, or in the shower. Doing so will, in essence, trick your body into survival mode, and kick mitochondria production into high gear.
9) Supplement your mitochondrial health.
While nothing encourages the mitochondria to thrive more than a clean, healthy diet, you can give your ‘mitos’ a targeted boost with some carefully chosen nutrient supplements. The right combo of diet and supplements translates to enhanced mental sharpness, fewer body aches and pains and protection against the most common and dreaded diseases of aging. There’s no better mind-body therapy than that!
The supplements I recommend to support mitochondrial health include: Nicotinamide Riboside, Alpha Lipoic Acid; Glutathione; CoQ10; the B vitamins; Magnesium; Fish or krill oil; L Carnitine; and PQQ, a relatively new one on the research radar and it looks not only to reduce oxidative damage but to stimulate new mitochondrial growth.