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What are Mitochondria?

You may have heard the slogan that mitochondria are the “powerhouses of the cell,” and while this is a very well-deserved title, they contribute to much more than that. Their main purpose is that they are the organelles that are responsible for energy production within most cells (some cells like red blood cells completely lack mitochondria). They do this through their role cellular respiration, the metabolic process that further breaks down food products in order to generate chemical energy in the form of ATP. The stage of this process that is located in the mitochondria, the Krebs cycle, produces the greatest proportion of ATP molecules that can be used to fuel the cell’s biochemical reactions. 

What is Mitochondrial Health and why is it important?

As stated earlier, mitochondria have a greater impact in the body than just energy production, as they also play a pivotal role in cellular health. Mitochondria dysfunction can lead to high levels of oxidative stress that can cause and/or worsen a number of diseases such as diabetes and dementia, and also has been linked to early aging and age-related symptoms, such as fatigue, diminished recovery time, and brain fog. The health of your mitochondria is also associated with metabolism, cardiovascular, and brain health. Mitochondrial health refers to how optimally the mitochondria are working in the body, including proper functionality and maintenance of their DNA (mtDNA).  Besides the production of ATP in the cellular respiration process, molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) form in the mitochondria, which you may have heard of in relation to free radicals. While not necessarily harmful, an excess of these molecules can result in aforementioned oxidative stress, which can cause DNA damage among numerous other adverse effects to health.  Research has shown that the primary cause of oxidative stress is a leakage of the ROS molecules from the mitochondria, underlining how vital proper mitochondria function is. Furthermore, it has also been shown that the species that do a better job in protecting mitochondria as they evolve end up living longer. 

How does Mitochondrial health impact your energy levels?

Mitochondrial DNA is particularly susceptible to damage, and as this damage accumulates over the years, it allows for more and more leakage of ROS molecules which results in oxygen and electron energy loss. This consequence is a major reason for how mitochondria dysfunction can impact your energy levels. Not only could impaired functionality decrease the ability of the mitochondria to do their job of producing 90% of the energy our body needs to function, but it also allows for energy to quite literally be lost with age. This makes sense as to why low energy levels, persistent fatigue, and brain fog are all symptoms associated with aging. 

Are there supplements you can take for mitochondrial support?

A number of antioxidants help to try to protect mitochondria from the damage caused by oxidative stress. These include Vitamin E, glutathione, and CoQ10, and research is optimistic about how their supplementation may aid in mitochondrial support. Supplements for Vitamin E and CoQ10 are readily available, and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) can be taken to increase glutathione production.

Is there a mitochondrial diet? What are the best foods you can eat for mitochondrial health?

While there is no defined diet for mitochondrial health, it is known that mitochondria are very sensitive to nutrient deficiencies. Thus, a lack of vital nutrients needed for protection, proper functioning, and maintenance can lead to oxidative stress and DNA damage. Including foods in your diet that are high in the previously suggested antioxidants, along with foods containing resveratrol, α-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-l-Carnitine, would be a good way to support your mitochondria. On the other hand, diets high in fat and sucrose have been linked to mitochondria dysfunction. However, since your mitochondrial DNA has a gene expression that is unique to you, the certain nutrients and foods that would help support your mitochondrial health are also specific to you. This means that general diet recommendations may not even help your mitochondrial health, and could even be harmful.  This is where Viome comes in.

Is there a mitochondrial health test?

In addition to analyzing microbial and human gene expression, our Health Intelligence Test™ also analyzes the gene expression from your mitochondria. It includes 2 important pathway scores, Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Energy Production Pathway, which are assessments of the efficiency of the functions of your mitochondria that are needed to meet your body's energy and metabolic demands. As just mentioned, your mitochondrial gene expression is unique to you, and our testing is able to identify very specific supplements that may be needed to reduce oxidative stress or increase the supply of mitochondrial enzymes necessary for normal energy production.