Mitochondria - you might remember them from high school biology class. They are bean-shaped organelles that float freely inside almost every one of our 37 trillion cells and they’re responsible for generating the energy our cells, organs and tissues need to function effectively.
Essentially, mitochondria are tiny power plants, that combine the food we eat with the oxygen we breathe and turn this into the fuel our cells need to work - and we need to live.
Mitochondria have a double membrane, which is a unique feature that enables them to perform a number of special biochemical reactions - such as cellular respiration, which is the name given to the body’s energy production process. The fuel we produce is called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is considered by scientists to be the energy currency of life.
On average, we produce our own body weight in ATP each day. Without ATP our heart won’t beat, our muscles won’t contract, we won’t see, we won’t heal, we won’t keep our body at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit; we’d be unable to chew, digest, or absorb nutrients. In short, when our ATP falls below a certain level, we die.
Not surprisingly, cells that require the most energy - such as the brain, heart, skeletal muscles and the eye - contain the most mitochondria. Mitochondria have their own DNA and RNA, so can replicate and boost their numbers in response to increased energy demands of the cell, such as after repeated muscle contraction.
The cellular energy generation process produces a potentially damaging by-product, called a free radical. Free radicals can damage the walls of our mitochondria, which are needed to protect the delicate machinery that manufactures the ATP.
If the mitochondrial wall is damaged, this machinery can be exposed to free radical damage. This causes wear and tear and can lead to less energy being produced. To make matters worse, if the mitochondrial wall is compromised, some free radicals can leak into the cell and damage the delicate equipment within it.
The good news is that mitochondria are clever: they stack themselves with a naturally-produced antioxidant called CoQ10 and use it to line the mitochondrial walls with a defensive barrier. This helps to neutralize the destructive free radicals and minimizes any negative impact on energy production, as well as potential damage to the cells.
For some time, scientists have recognized the link between mitochondrial function and our health.
As we age, the level of CoQ10 produced inside our mitochondria declines. When the level of CoQ10 declines to a point where it cannot counteract the damaging effects of free radicals, it places our cells in a state of oxidative stress. We don’t notice it immediately, but over time, we start to have less energy, we don’t recover from as quickly from injury or illness and we feel more tired.
In fact, it is now recognized that when mitochondria are unable to function at their best, this can be a significant cause of many serious health conditions; in the developed world, this includes seven of the top ten most costly to human life. It has become increasingly evident that our overall health and well-being and even how fast we age, are closely related to how well our mitochondria are performing. So mitochondrial dysfunction is something to very much guard against.
Although mitochondria were discovered over 100 years ago, scientists have only recently begun to decipher the many essential tasks performed by these impressive and invaluable organelles.
In addition to energy production and cell protection, scientists now know that mitochondria are more than just the powerhouse of the cell. They are vital for calcium regulation, cell specialization, DNA and RNA production, cell growth and cell regeneration. They send messages to the nucleus and other structures in the cell which modify cellular activities. The ability of cells to correctly “hear” these messages determines how well our bodies grow, repair themselves and fight off infection.
The world is waking up to the importance of the mighty mitochondria; there is growing awareness of how critical they are for life - therefore, we need to look after them as much as possible.
It’s no surprise that all the components of a healthy lifestyle – a good diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep – will certainly provide an environment in which your mitochondria can thrive. But it’s important to note that even if you look after your mitochondria their performance still declines naturally as you age. Therefore, taking a supplement that supports your mitochondrial performance is the very best strategy to help you maintain energy levels and support optimal well-being.
Electron shell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron_shell
Littarru GP, Tiano. Bioenergetic and antioxidant properties of coenzyme Q10: recent developments.
Mol Biotechnol. 2007 Sep;37(1):31-7.
Marie-Céline Frantz and Peter Wipf. Mitochondria as a target in treatment http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920596/
Mitochondria. Cell powerhouses. http://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Digestion-Chemistry/Looking-Closer/Mitochondria-cell-powerhouses
Oxidation-Reduction reactions. http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Analytical_Chemistry/Electrochemistry/Redox_Chemistry/Oxidation-Reduction_Reactions
Smith R, Hartley R, Cocheme H, Murphy M. Mitochondrial pharmacology. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 2012;33(6):341-352
Smith R, Murphy M. Animal and human studies with the mitochondria-targeted antioxidant MitoQ. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2010;1201:96-103