SCIENCE

ATP & energy: understanding the relationship within your cells

Most people haven’t taken microbiology, but understanding the role of ATP in the body and your overall wellness is good to know.

9 mins to read

When someone thinks about embarking on their own health and wellness journey, they tend to imagine themselves frequenting the gym, sipping on green juice, and taking the time to get into good physical shape. These certainly are important factors to consider when making healthy changes to your life, but the reality is that this is a very surface-level approach to wellness.

In recent years, the importance of cellular health has become more mainstream. More people than ever are learning more about how the body works and ways they can support their body from a bottom-up approach by supporting their body at a cellular level.

Cells are the basis of living things and everything humans are able to do. Just reading this article requires the muscles in your eyes to move, your brain to interpret the signals coming from the retina, and your muscles to scroll through the page. Each of these actions is performed by different cells, but they all have one thing in common and that is that they require a source of energy.

Below is a closer look at how the body stays energized with a molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), how the body obtains it, as well as ways you can support optimal energy at a cellular level. While learning about the complexities of the human body can be intimidating, having a fuller understanding of the important processes within the body like ATP can help you to support your body in the best way possible to live a long and happy life.

What does ATP do?

ATP is an energy-dense molecule that is used by nearly every living cell within your body to provide them with an energy source to perform their specific function; it even plays a huge role in DNA synthesis. The ATP molecule is a high-energy molecule, but what exactly makes this molecule so special? Below is a closer look at the structure of ATP and how ATP is used as energy at a cellular level.

Structure

The unique structure of ATP is what provides it with its ability to act as the source of energy for thousands of cellular processes. Adenosine triphosphate consists of three phosphate groups bound to one another, a ribose sugar group, and a nitrogenous base. Structurally the ATP molecule is similar to other nucleosides such as those found in DNA and RNA (and also uses an electron transport chain like DNA).

How does ATP release energy

The main reason that ATP acts as the energy currency of the cell is that it contains highly energetic bonds that when broken, release energy. The most energetic bond within ATP is the bond located between the 2nd and 3rd phosphate from the ribose sugar group.

This bond is highly energetic, and in a reaction known as hydrolysis, the phosphate group is removed yielding adenosine diphosphate (ADP), inorganic phosphate, and energy released to the surroundings. The energy that is released is what cells harness to allow them to perform a number of different functions.

How are ATP and ADP related?

ADP is a product of ATP hydrolysis, but the relationship between these two related molecules doesn't end there. ADP can be further hydrolyzed to yield adenosine monophosphate (AMP), or it can be converted back into ATP through a reaction known as phosphorylation. The hydrolysis of ATP is something that occurs millions of times a second within your body and the ability to make more through phosphorylation of ADP is vital.

How is ATP used?

Now you know what ATP does within the cell, but you may wonder how exactly the body harnesses the released energy to function? Below is a closer look at some of the ways that cells within your body utilize ATP. Understanding the many utilizations of ATP in the body can allow you to have a better understanding of how important this one molecule is within the body.

Cell replication and repair

Cells within the human body are quite complex and are able to replicate themselves when needed. When you cut yourself, experience an injury, work out, or are simply growing the body initiates cell replication to heal or grow the affected tissue.

Cell division and replication is a task that requires an immense amount of energy. Each cell needs to replicate its genetic code along with a number of other cellular components like the mitochondria. All of these reactions require energy for them to occur and that is where ATP comes in. When ATP hydrolysis is paired with these reactions, the energy release allows for them to occur.

Even maintenance at an individual cellular level requires ATP. Creating proteins, enzymes, and transporting materials in and out of the cell can all require ATP to perform.

Movement

The human body consists of hundreds of different muscles that allow you to have your full range of motion required to walk, talk, and lift objects. Muscles also play a key role in digestion and keeping your blood pumping throughout your body. When you break these muscles down into their components, each muscle consists of thousands of individual muscle cells.

Muscle cells are microscopic and are what allow you to move. These cells are linked to one another to form a muscle. These special cells allow your body to move by being able to shorten and lengthen thanks to their unique structure and the power of ATP. ATP is needed for both muscle contraction and relaxation.

Neural impulses

Another vital use of ATP is found within the nervous system. The nervous system consists of the information highways of the body. The brain acts as the control center and there are nerves that send information regarding different sensations to the brain and nerves that travel from the brain to parts of the body to allow the brain to coordinate different activities.

Nerves are unique cells that are able to send signals with neural impulses. Nerves utilize ions to create electrochemical gradients within the cells, which allows them to depolarize and send a signal throughout the body. ATP is required to maintain this electrochemical gradient, and without it, nerve impulses would be unable to conduct signals throughout the body.

How is ATP energy produced?

When people think about how their body obtains energy, they most likely think about the foods that they eat. Many people are familiar with the main types of macromolecules — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These macros do indeed supply the body with the molecules and building blocks for life, but the reality is that at a cellular level, ATP acts as the main energy currency.

ATP is a small, energy-dense molecule that can be derived from any of these three macromolecules through a number of biochemical pathways. ATP is a crucial molecule, and having a general understanding of how your body is able to produce it is important to know to ensure that you are doing your best to support your health at a cellular level by ensuring it is able to make all the ATP it needs to function at its very best.

Below is a closer look at how the body is able to take in the food you eat and convert it into ATP.

Initial digestion

Initial digestion is the process by which the body breaks down the things you consume into their component parts. The breakdown of food is accomplished through the physical breakdown from chewing in addition to a number of digestive enzymes and the high acidity of the stomach.

All of these processes are able to break food down into component macromolecules. Fats are broken down into fatty acids, protein is broken down into amino acids, and carbohydrates are broken down into sugars.

Absorption

Once sufficiently broken down, these molecules are able to be absorbed within the intestines and enter the body. Each macromolecule has a specific mechanism for entering the blood, but sugars are able to enter the bloodstream directly since they are the main source of energy and ATP production.

As glucose enters the bloodstream, blood sugar levels rise. When the body detects an elevation in blood sugar, the pancreas secretes insulin which is a hormone that tells cells to start taking up the glucose from the blood. As cells take in glucose, blood sugar levels fall and the body stops secreting insulin.

Cellular metabolism

Once in the cell, glucose acts as the catalyst for cellular respiration to occur. Cellular respiration is essentially the process of breaking glucose down to produce ATP molecules.

The first step once glucose has made its way into the cell is that glucose is broken down in the cytoplasm in a process known as glycolysis. After glycolysis, the remaining molecules enter the mitochondria. It is the job of the mitochondria to coordinate the majority of ATP production through a number of different chemical reactions.

Conclusion

In summary, ATP is a nucleotide and a vital molecule that is utilized by almost every single cell within your body. When it comes to cellular health and ATP, you should do your best to properly support the body’s natural means of ATP production to ensure your cells have all the energy they need to function optimally.

MitoQ is a supplement that is tailor-made to support optimal mitochondrial functioning. By providing antioxidant fighting power where your cell needs it most, MitoQ can help to support your mitochondria for years to come, and ensure you support your energy levels from the bottom up.

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