We’re so excited to share the first episode of our “MitoQ Experts” livestream series with you. In this episode, MitoQ’s Head of Brand and Communications Liz Hancock interviews Grace Mitchell, MitoQ’s Science and Education Writer, about cellular health. To learn about the main functions of a cell, why having a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant is important, whether young and healthy people need to worry about their cell health – and so much more – keep reading, watch the video below or tune into the audio version on Spotify.
Welcome! We are MitoQ – and we are completely obsessed with cells. So, we thought we would kick off our first-ever livestream diving deep into cells. Our topic is “Why you should care about your cells”. It’s something that a lot of us maybe touched on at school, but then never thought about again. And, probably, a lot of people still don’t understand that much about cell health or, in fact, why they should even care about it. I remember a tiny amount of my cell health education at high school but, Grace, I wonder if you could share how your cell health journey started?
I think it was high school. I just remember everyone saying the one thing that they took away from biology lessons was “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. But when I was first learning about cells, I remember learning about plant and animal cells and seeing how similar they are. Obviously, there are also differences, but I just remember looking at all of these tiny little compartments in every cell and it was just like a Russian doll effect of kind of looking at myself and realizing within my organs there are cells, in your cells there are organelles. It was quite mind-blowing.
It’s completely mind-blowing, isn’t it? It’s really, really hard to fathom that we are almost entirely made up of trillions and trillions of little cells – and, if you isolate one, you can’t see it with the naked eye. But our entire existence depends on those cells!
I think it’s a way of looking at ourselves that we’re not used to. We’re used to seeing it in a textbook or in a scientific setting rather than equating cells as being ourselves and what we actually are – which is pretty cool.
What are the main functions of cells?
Completely. So, can you talk us through the main functions of the cell? I feel like this is a question that could last the entire livestream because there are so many functions, but can you summarize a little bit?
Yeah, absolutely. There are a few key functions that define a cell. One is that cells are there to provide structural support. The bones, the architecture of the “building”, the framework of who we are is all thanks to cells.
Another is that they generate energy, which ties into our mitochondria being our little cellular batteries – that's what they’re responsible for.
A really big role of our cells is to divide and grow. Basically, a cell’s whole life cycle depends on it being able to copy its DNA, replicate its proteins, grow – and, as it gets to a certain point and it gets too big, it’s going to split off and divide. Those divisions are happening, in the trillions, every day. So, that process of cells dividing and growing is how we grow as people.
Another function is that they’re there to store our genetic information and keep it safe and make copies of it.
Cells can also have all kinds of specialized functions that are going to be different throughout the body. That’s really the biggest thing that separates humans from bacteria – the fact that we evolved that ability to have specialized cells with different roles, rather than just being one cell that does it all.
Why is good cell health important?
There’s so much complexity in it and most of us don’t get up every day thinking at that type of deep level. So, what does having good cell health mean to people on a day-to-day basis?
I think when you consider the fact that we are totally made out of cells, our mental and physical health all boils down to what is happening at this foundational level. I think people have conversations going, I’m working on my health at the moment. I’m working on my fitness at the moment. No one really talks about yeah, I’m really just trying to prioritize my cellular health right now. So, it is totally this new, undiscovered field, really – which makes it seem mysterious. But it’s actually really, really simple: everything starts in your cells. So, if you’re nourishing your cells, doing what’s best by your cells, and thinking about the changes that happen as you age then that correlates to your mental and physical health.
I feel like once you become aware of the importance of your cells and that everything kind of starts inside the cell, you kind of become a bit of a squeaky door because – talking to friends and family who might be telling you things like I just can’t stay awake past 2pm in the afternoon, I’m like “oh yeah, that starts inside your cells, it’s because your cells are stressed.”
Honestly, as soon as you become familiar with the concept, it’s just such a no-brainer, right? Like, why would you not try to prioritize keeping your cells healthy as you get older? Because we know that small changes snowball and accumulate.
But yeah, it’s getting that conversation going – which is what we’re here to do.
What can damage cells?
So, a big one that we talk about a lot here at MitoQ is that the accumulation of free radical damage can harm your cells. What that is, is when our mitochondria in our cells are producing energy (which is what the body runs on for fuel), a by-product of that process is that they release these free radical molecules which are quite unstable and they can damage cellular components. Up to a certain threshold, those free radicals are useful – they have roles in the cell. But beyond a certain threshold, that tips into what we call oxidative stress or cell stress – and that tends to increase as we get older. That oxidative stress can lead to cell damage and mitochondrial damage, and that has flow-on effects as your cell replicate and divide and pass those genetics on. So, free radical damage is a really big one that ties in with a lot of other things:
- Radiation from UV exposure – too much sunlight
- Toxins from pollution, alcohol, drugs and other chemicals
- Unhealthy diets or diets really lacking in nutrition
- A lack of hydration
- Too much psychological stress
- Lack of sleep
It’s kind of all these things we know are not great for us.
All those no-brainer things, right? It’s what your mama told you: exercise, get sleep, drink enough water, eat good food.
Exactly. All of those things are contributing to cell stress. So, we know those things aren’t great for us but it’s interesting to see in the literature that, yes, those things are stressing you out on a cellular level, not just on that macro level.
One of the analogies I always use when I’m trying to describe free radicals – which are quite a mind-blowing concept – is “it’s like throwing a dinner party and everything’s humming along, you’re having a great evening, and then you get some gatecrashers and they start trashing your house and setting fires. The house is your cell, and that kind of spirals out of control and you, as the host, spend all of your time putting out the fires and looking after the damage instead of hosting the dinner party”.
If your brain cells are trying to do one of the many hundreds of functions of your brain, they’re not concentrating on that, they’re concentrating on getting their house in order.
Yeah, that’s a really great way to think about it.
What are the benefits of managing cell stress?
So then, if you are managing cell stress, what kind of benefits are you going to see showing up?
Again, it’s a commonsense answer, really. Because every single part of your body is made out of cells, there is no organ or body part that is not going to be to be affected by your cellular health. Not saying that focusing on good cell health practices is going to make you this superhuman person – but good cell health does underpin the health of your whole body. It’s a very interconnected, interdependent process that we’re not used to thinking about. We’re not taught it in textbooks. That’s why I think it’s great that we’ve now got this platform to be able to talk about it.
So true. A lot of people, when we’re talking about MitoQ and all of the many benefits or, you know, just generally looking after your cell health, people kind of call BS on it because, you know, you can say you can maybe experience better mental clarity and better daily energy and you’ll recover faster from exercise and you just generally feel more healthy – and people call BS on it because they’re used to going oh, I’m low in iron so I take an iron supplement. Or I’m getting a cold, so I take vitamin C, and they’re used to those single solutions for a single purpose. But when you say that MitoQ or good cell health can have these wider benefits, people aren’t used to thinking holistically.
Absolutely. I think especially in our Western kind of mindset we’re used to thinking of things as being in a vacuum. So, when you’re going on about things happening within your cells, if you’re not at the point of thinking of yourself as a composite of cells – it's totally just not even within the ballpark.
But it is interesting because we’ve seen now that, like you said, people take vitamin C for a cold – where that has been proven to be false. MitoQ is clinically proven to help fight oxidative stress. I think we get used to just accepting that brain fog and low energy just is what it is and we just tough it out. But those are signs of oxidative stress and MitoQ is clinically proven to help fight that. We want to be living the best life that we possibly can so why not prioritize your cell health?
How can you avoid cell stress?
It’s the super regular, boring things. You’ve got to wear sunscreen. Really focus on a nutrient-dense diet with all the carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals that your body needs. Your cells, at their very basic level, require water, oxygen and food. The food that you’re eating forms the membranes of your cells. So, if you’ve decided you’re going to cut out fats as a whole group, that affects the membranes of your cells.
Another thing is oxygen: we need to breathe properly. Keep breathing!
Other things we can do are things like managing stress and really prioritizing sleep. There are genetic factors that you can’t control, so it’s best to just focus on what you can control. Part of that is having these good practices: having a good diet, getting regular exercise, etc. You can help this along by taking clinically proven antioxidants too. There are some antioxidants which are great for the general cell. MitoQ is an example, which is great for your mitochondria as a targeted antioxidant.
What makes MitoQ different from other antioxidants?
We dove in boots first but we haven’t actually talked about MitoQ. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it because our mission is educating and awakening people to the importance of their cells and cell health. But I think it would be good to just talk a little about MitoQ and what makes it so special and how it’s different to the everyday antioxidants that people might typically reach for on the supermarket shelf.
So, when you define MitoQ, it’s defined as a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant. That whole sentence is something that people potentially won’t understand if there isn’t a little bit of context to go with it. So, it’s a cell health molecule. It’s classed as a supplement but it’s a more advanced version of a supplement. So, what it does is it’s specifically targeted to your mitochondria to work as an antioxidant that fights free radicals at the source where they’re produced. Most free radicals come from the mitochondria. Remember, free radicals are damaging our cells, they cause oxidative stress – and that all increases with age and leads to damage to our cells and to our energy-producing powerhouses.
Why does cell stress increase with age?
A lot of things tend to happen with age. We’ve got this sort of in-built clock which is really interesting because across all animal species you can see this clock moving at different rates. There is this free radical theory of aging which says that free radicals increase with age and that leads to all the hazardous effects of aging. That theory isn’t a straightforward story, but it is part of the story. Free radicals are associated with aging and they do underpin a lot of the effects that come with aging.
So it’s quite interesting because no one is 100% sure why we age or whether there’s one particular protein switch that controls it all. It’s a complex story which is why MitoQ isn’t an “anti-aging cure”, it’s something to help you age in a healthy manner and something to support your cells as you’re getting older.
Anti-aging definitely is something we strike off the vernacular at MitoQ because our whole focus is about living, it’s not about anti-aging. We just want to help people to live in good health for as long as possible.
So, why then is having a mitochondria targeting antioxidant important, versus a regular antioxidant?
The mitochondria, as I mentioned, produces most of the free radical damage that happens in the cell so it’s also the biggest target for damage within the cell. Most ingredients can’t actually get into the mitochondria because it has the double membrane that’s hard to pass into.
MitoQ was originally invented off of CoQ10 which, as people may have heard, is an antioxidant that naturally exists in the energy-producing machinery within your mitochondria. The problem with CoQ10 is that it is quite big and it’s not that easy to get into the mitochondria. So here, in New Zealand, our founding scientists found a way to tweak the CoQ10 molecule so that it was smaller and attracted directly to the mitochondria. So, MitoQ fulfills a niche that most other antioxidants cannot do. Mitochondria targeted antioxidants are a very cutting-edge thing in biotech.
What are some tell-tale signs that your cells are stressed?
We’ve spoken about this a little bit already, we’ve spoken about fatigue, but what are some of the other signs?
The important thing here is that every person is different. We all know someone who eats super unhealthily and maybe they party every weekend but they still tend to feel amazing and their health is awesome – maybe until they hit 40 or 50, then maybe it all comes crashing down. So, it’s really about paying attention to your body and what’s going on in your body like: feeling really brain-fogged, you have really low energy, it’s difficult getting to sleep at night or getting up in the morning, you have those general kinds of aches and pains – those are all signs of oxidative stress. Just getting used to paying attention to that when your body is whispering rather than when your body is shouting is important as is accepting that it’s not “just life” - you can actually do something about it in a lot of cases.
What happens when you take MitoQ?
That was one of the first big revelations for me when I first started taking MitoQ. I was in my late 40s and I was working as a journalist and I came across it. Really loved the science, started taking it and, being honest, didn’t notice a massive boost but I believed enough in the science to know that it was something good to take for my long-term health. For many reasons, you know, having another child, I stopped taking it again and when I came to work at MitoQ a few years ago I started taking it again with zero expectations of what I was going to get out of it and then was really surprised. A couple of weeks in I just woke up one morning and went oh, hello! Hang on, I feel like bouncing out of bed. This is unusual.
I think we hear it time and again – all of our customers have different experiences, all of the MitoCrew have different experiences – because we’re not all cookie-cutter, are we?
Absolutely. When I started taking it, I was the same. I didn’t really notice anything super obvious but then when I was doing a workout I noticed that I could just push that bit harder. Now, if I don’t take MitoQ before going to the gym it’s like what was I thinking?!
But I think that’s the great thing, everyone does experience it differently. It’s not one of those things where we’re like please take it, please see the effects – people will write in and just say it’s done this for me or it’s done this for me – so everyone does have that individual experience.
Do you need to take MitoQ if you’re young and healthy?
You’ve been talking about aging and, for me personally, as I’ve aged I’ve definitely noticed a need and a difference, taking MitoQ. But what if you’re younger? You’re still made of cells but, in terms of the decline of the health and functioning of those cells, should you be taking MitoQ?
This is a good question because when you’re younger things tend to be working more smoothly. You haven’t accumulated all that damage that builds up over the years. So, from this perspective you could say you don’t need to take it, everything is still running pretty well. From the other point of view, being aware of cell health when you’re young and building those good practices kind of has that snowball effect. It’s good to get those good practices in place now and preserve your cell health now, through things like sleep, diet and hydration – it may include taking MitoQ as well. It really just depends on the individual person and their needs.
So that can be really helpful.
There are some young people who I would say it’s not a priority for them, they don’t need to take it. Me, definitely, I’m like...yeah, I need to take my MitoQ because I just notice what a huge difference it makes. So, again, it does come down to the individual and what their priorities are.
I know we have a lot of young sportspeople, particularly a lot of 18-19-year-old cyclists who have crazy energy needs. You know, they’ve got to go out and perform on the bike for hours at a stretch and then recover really fast and be out racing on the bike the next day. A lot of those cyclists have been taking MitoQ for a good year or two and they really are a testament to how it can help them do that day in and day out.
Yeah, I think that’s a really great point. I was reading a study recently – obviously, it’s more of a common problem that people aren’t exercising enough rather than people are exercising too much, but research is starting to show that over-exercising and over-training/the amount of training you’re doing at the elite athlete level does correlate with decreased mitochondrial respiration. That kind of accumulates and affects your mitochondrial function. I think the study was based on high-intensity interval training. So, if you’re doing loads of exercise and you’re really pushing your body to that upper limit, then taking MitoQ is a great idea.
MitoQ has 700+ studies. Who funds them?
You mentioned studies there, and I want to touch on that. I know MitoQ just crossed 700 research papers, studies and clinical trials – which is pretty huge. It’d be great for you to talk to that a little bit because I know a lot of people don’t understand that we don’t actually fund all of those studies, we have no influence on what people are studying MitoQ for, we literally just provide the molecule for the science community around the world to go and see what it can do.
I totally understand people’s confusion around this because, if you haven’t come from a scientific background, the way that the research works can be really confusing. It doesn’t help that, in some cases, companies will sponsor studies and conduct their own studies. So, I think the key difference here is we have scientists coming to us asking to use MitoQ in their trials or studies. It’s not us going out and paying scientists to study this and make up results about us. It is all independent research. It is peer-reviewed research. Any kind of biases or vested interest statements have to be laid out. So, we don’t have a sway on the results - unless it’s a study where we’re directly working with the researchers, which is very rare (and it’s funded and called out in the study). The most that we do is provide researchers with product - because MitoQ is the only place where you can get our molecule.
I think that’s a really important point to emphasize: we have researchers coming to us. They’re excited about MitoQ and they’re excited about what the molecule can do. So, we just get to kind of find out all this awesome stuff that pops up all the time.
How is cellular science changing the health industry?
I think what’s also really exciting is that, when our molecule was first invented 20 years ago, it was right at the start of the cellular health explosion. Back then, no one really knew much about cellular health. Hell, a lot of people didn’t even know that much about mitochondria beyond the basic physiological function of it. Since the invention of MitoQ, this whole area is absolutely exploding – it's kind of one of the biggest waves in healthcare coming, isn’t it?
Absolutely, and mitochondria in general have been overlooked for a really long time in biology. So, as science is progressing, we’re learning more about the mitochondria and everything that it can do. That's why our studies have been ramping up so much as well. Much like, maybe 20 years ago, no one really knew how probiotics worked, I can see MitoQ going the same way as well.
If you’re taking other medications, do you need to worry about adding MitoQ?
So, this is a really good point. Unfortunately, we don’t really have studies comparing taking MitoQ and taking medications at the same time. That’s something we would really love to have some research done on. At the moment, we can kind of piggyback on some of the research that’s been done on CoQ10 a little bit, just because they do have similar functions – they're not the exact same thing, but similar functions. So, we would encourage anyone that’s taking medication to get in touch with us and talk about the individual situation. In general, MitoQ doesn’t have any known contraindications – but just get in touch with us if you have any specific concerns or talk to your healthcare professional.
What is the craziest thing you know about cells?
I’m fascinated by the fact that since the dawn of multicellular organisms and before humans walked the earth, there was this initial DNA program that was installed into the first multi-cellular thing ever. Over time, that program has had little bug fixes and little updates and tweaks from generation to generation. But that same ancient script is what is still in our cells today. It’s the same program. It’s the same early installation. That is fascinating to me because cells don’t (that we know of) have a consciousness, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re running off of this ancient manuscript. They’re running off of chemical gradients and bioelectric signals – and that’s how our cells are working. They’re doing all of these amazing reactions. So, to me, that is just mind-blowing. If you were to unravel that script, I think it would extend all the way to Pluto.
What is your favorite cell or part of a cell?
My favorite cell is the human egg cell. What fascinates me about it is that as a reproductive cell it has a unique function that no other cell could possibly fulfill, it’s one of the largest cells in the human body (it can actually be seen, I think it’s about the size of a grain of sand), and when you are a fetus in your mother’s womb - as far as we know at the moment – you have all the eggs that you’re ever going to have for the rest of your life. So, there’s this balance between function and longevity here where those eggs have to stay in pristine condition for 40-50 years and still be able to produce a new human and maintain their reproductive capacity. All of that is fascinating, but it’s also what we don’t know that’s fascinating. We don’t know why humans produce so many eggs. There’s so much that still needs to be understood and I just think that’s amazing – when we think we have everything figured out but there’s still all this unknown about something that makes new humans.