Mitochondria made their claim to fame in high school science class as “the powerhouse of the cell,” residing in all living cells in different numbers. These small bodies produce energy that is used to drive all cellular functioning – every breath we take, thought we have, and muscle we move is fueled by the mitochondria. With hundreds of thousands working 24/7, they're easy to take for granted. What exactly do our mitochondria do, and why should we care?
Floating freely through our cells acting like little digestive systems, the mitochondria are constantly taking in nutrients, breaking them down, and creating energy. Their functioning is incredibly important to maintain a healthy body, and their duties are not limited to merely fueling our cells. They’re incredibly important for brain health, which is no surprise given that the brain consumes such a large amount of energy. Malfunctioning mitochondria have been associated with cognitive decline and degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, they play a significant role in immunity and cellular defense. When we have a cold or the flu, we often feel exhausted. When there is an infection in the body, the mitochondria help activate the immune system. They switch gears from energy production to immune function, meaning less ATP is produced, causing us to feel fatigued. We can’t feel our best without healthy mitochondrial function. So, what are the key players in protecting them?
An anti-inflammatory diet, made up of whole foods with minimal sugar and refined grains protects the mitochondria by delivering plenty of nutrients without causing oxidative stress. The more fruits and veggies we eat, the more phytochemicals we take in to help nourish our cells. Glutathione is known as “the mother of all antioxidants” and the “master detoxifier” and spinach, avocado, asparagus and okra are some of the richest sources. In short, eat more veggies!
Protein and healthy fats
All of those antioxidants can’t do their best work without the support from plenty of protein and healthy fats. For protein, look to nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. Olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil are all great sources of healthy fats.
Fasting, moving, sleeping
Intermittent fasting can also improve mitochondrial health. When we fast, damaged mitochondria are expelled through a process called autophagy, which helps them get rid of unwanted debris. Exercise and plenty of sleep are also key for healthy mitochondria because they reduce stress and inflammation.
If you feel like you’re doing everything right but are still bogged down by fatigue, some supplements to consider are glutathione, CoQ10, magnesium, or a B-vitamin complex.
So, there you have it. Healthy mitochondria are tied to all facets of our health, and keeping these small-but-mighty bodies strong may be easier than you think!