The secret to lasting energy
Do you need a energy boost in menopause? Have you heard about the ‘mitochondria’ or perhaps remember the term from Science at school? They are responsible for energy production in the body, particularly at a cellular level and having a bearing on every aspect of our health. It is a new area of focus in human health and lightly even more so in relation to the additional health issues appearing after COVID, like memory, breathing and particularly fatigue. This is often termed rightly or wrongly ‘Long Covid’ (1). The cellular energy is hugely affected by menopause and reduction of oestrogen, nutrition and lifestyle play a big role in giving an energy boost.
The human cell is made up of many organelles, enclosed within a cell wall and performs many functions. Mitochondria are an integral part of it with many complex roles, where the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production occur. Amazingly the mitochondrion has its own separate DNA passed down through the mother’s genes. The quantity, type and function of mitochondria are adapted for the organ in which they are found (2).
Mitochondria the “powerhouse” of your cells
A mitochondrion (singular) is a small organelle that takes in sugars and essential fats and transforms them into energy rich molecules in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which our bodies then use to fuel muscle contraction, nerve impulses and chemical synthesis. These tiny organelles create 90% of the energy we need for life and essential energy to organs such as the heart, brain and muscles.
In practice I often use the analogy of the engine in a car. We require the correct fuel from your food to power the car, which gets broken down in the digestive system to and then taken up in our blood stream and delivered to all the cells in the body. So many processes need to work effectively for efficient metabolism, requiring key nutrients to enable the mitochondria then make the energy in your cells.
Our cells have developed complicated mechanisms to adapt to changes in metabolic demands, often due to stress, to maintain ‘homeostasis’ or balance. Some of this is done in the mitochondria where they are controlled by number and function. The production of new and the removal of damaged or unwanted mitochondria is a highly regulated process that need to be accurately coordinated for the maintenance of mitochondrial balance and cellular health. (3)
When it goes wrong
When mitochondria are damaged, they produce less energy and negatively affect functioning of our bodies, particularly the heart, brain, muscles, and lungs. Mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with several human pathologies such as type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases. Proper mitochondrial physiology is paramount for health and survival. (4) Symptoms of more moderate imbalance could include can include tiredness, brain fog and aching muscles and joints and when extreme chronic fatigue. The mitochondria sense threats like chronic stress, toxic environmental factors, they may enter defence mode instead of energy production mode. However, mitochondria also use stressors to keep them robust called mitochondrial hormesis e.g vigorous exercise, fasting, phytonutrients, temperature, and excitement!
Other Factors and The Mitochondria
The immune system is a complex with specialised immune cells with unique functions, like the duties of an army. Some cells attack, some mobilise immune cells to sites of infection and injury to provide protection and promote healing. Others recruit more and some cells specialise in memorising the enemy, to prepare for any further conflicts with the same opponent! Mitochondria have a role in recruiting essential immune cells as your first line of defence against bacteria and viruses. They may also be responsible for activating ‘cell suicide’ which ensures that any cells which are not working properly such as those associated with cancer and autoimmune disease are destroyed.
All these cells require energy from ATP to perform their role so any shortfall in energy because of mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to malfunctioning immune responses. Such as a slow immune response or over recruitment or faulty memorising, where immune system attacks our own bodies resulting in inflammation and autoimmune conditions.(5)
These mighty mitochondria rely on oestrogen for optimal function and they also change in size and density as we transition through menopause. As many other changes occur in our organs and muscles the mitochondria are impacted. Energy levels can plummet, fatigue builds up, muscles ache, exercise becomes harder. Oestrogen fluctuates and lessens as we enter menopause and energy production in the mitochondria is reduced. Oestrogens affect mitochondria through multiple processes involving oestrogen receptors both in the cell and in the mitochondria. They affect mitochondrial proteins, the flexibility of membranes, oxidant and antioxidant capabilities, energy production and calcium retention capacities. (2) In short oestrogens help mitochondria to uptake oxygen and store it and assist with calcium turnover and protein use in the body. As our energy supply and cell survival depends on the mitochondria it’s important to improve the function and the number of our mitochondria as we age. (6)
Help your mitochondria thrive
Some surprising lifestyle factors that can help
So regular exercise uses more energy which will force the body to make more mitochondria as energy demand is high! It also increases your oxygen intake, which is critical for this process of producing energy. The opposite is true they become lazy! Start with just 30 minutes.
Heat or cold therapy.
Heat therapy, like saunas increase the efficiency of the mitochondria. The energy needs of mitochondria increase, resulting in better use of oxygen in the blood. The effect of cold can do the same! Try 30 seconds of cold water at the end of your shower.
Use relaxation techniques, mindfulness, meditation as the stress hormones alter mitochondrial function, affecting biological process in the body, especially for the immune, nervous and endocrine systems.
Prioritize 8 hours of sleep.
A good night’s sleep helps the brain clear the by-products that build up during the day it is harmful to the mitochondria in neurons. Also, if your circadian rhythm (wake sleep cycle) is disrupted, this can lead to a less cellular energy.
Manage environmental toxins
These lead to inflammation that stimulates release of inflammatory molecules in the immune system.
Nutrients For Mitochondrial health
It is also essential that mitochondria are nourished with the right nutrients so that they can act properly. They rely on a huge supply of nutrients to work effectively and are dependent on enzymes being broken down correctly to provide the right fuel to perform their tasks. This includes
These coenzymes fuel the enzymes that are essential to proper cellular function. Found in high amounts in sardines, lamb and nutritional yeast.
Aids in the production of ATP the full-time job of our cells. Found in almonds, spinach, avocado.
These substances can reduce the formation of damage causing free radicals in the body. As mitochondria use oxygen to generate energy, they release a large number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can be harmful to cellular structures, causing oxidative stress. Antioxidants help protect cells and molecules from this damage.
An antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Found in sea food, beef, cashews and pumpkin seeds.
Micronutrients from plant-based foods packed with antioxidants. Including, quercetin found in apples, berries, brassica vegetables see below, tomatoes, grapes, onions.(7) Resveratrol is found in red berries coloured vegetables, and fresh leafy greens. Also green tea contains a catechin called EGCG. (8)
Another name is ubiquitol which is the readily available supplement form. As a mitochondrial coenzyme it aids aids production of cellular energy and is also a protective antioxidant. Our bodies make it, but production declines with age. It isn’t the easiest thing to get in food, and easier to supplement coenzyme Q10 than to consume it. Found in eggs, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish. (10)
The fourth most abundant mineral found in our bodies and a primary source of antioxidants in the mitochondria. It increases mitochondrial permeability which means a stronger barrier and defence system. Found in cruciferous vegetables like Kale, cabbage, cauliflower and sprouts! (9)
Excess of calories leads to obesity and inflammation that increases oxidative stress. This oxidative damage can trigger mitochondrial changes and dysfunctions that aggravate the inflammation associated with obesity, causing a cycle that continuously inhibits energy production in every cell in your body.
Limiting the eating window can trigger your mitochondria to adapt, often termed intermittent fasting. This supports the mitochondrial network by removing damaged mitochondria and triggering biogenesis of new mitochondria. Remember the quality of your food is essential to ensure you are providing your mitochondria with the nutrients needed to work efficiently.
Eliminating the foods and habits that drain your cells of energy will leave you with more options than you might realize to boost your mitochondria!
Holistic view to fighting disease
We are still in the throughs of the pandemic and our quest for health is never more real than now. Understanding the complexities of our cells is impactful as they make up our whole body, targeting one function in the cell could impact our total health more effectively. As a functional medicine practitioner, I consider all the body systems to identify the root cause and implement nutrition and lifestyle changes that will be the most meaningful for optimal health.
Get in touch if you’d like support with your energy? I offer a free no obligation discovery call
- Wood E, Hall KH, Tate W. Role of mitochondria, oxidative stress and the response to antioxidants in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: A possible approach to SARS-CoV-2 ‘long-haulers’? Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine [Internet]. 2020 Nov [cited 2021 Mar 26];7(1):14. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC7680046/
- Kararigas G, Hevener A, Straface E, Ventura-Clapier R, Piquereau J, Veksler V, et al. Estrogens, Estrogen Receptors Effects on Cardiac and Skeletal Muscle Mitochondria CARDIAC AND SKELETAL MUSCLE MITOCHONDRIA Mitochondria. Frontiers in Endocrinology | www.frontiersin.org [Internet]. 2019;1:557. Available from: www.frontiersin.org
- Ploumi C, Daskalaki I, Tavernarakis N. Mitochondrial biogenesis and clearance: a balancing act. The FEBS Journal [Internet]. 2017 Jan 11 [cited 2021 Mar 25];284(2):183–95. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/febs.13820
- Koklesova L, et al. Mitochondrial impairments in aetiopathology of multifactorial diseases: common origin but individual outcomes in context of 3P medicine [Internet]. EPMA Journal. Springer Science and Business Media Deutschland GmbH; 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 25]. p. 1. fAvailable from: /pmc/articles/PMC7931170/
- Faas MM, de Vos P. Mitochondrial function in immune cells in health and disease. Vol. 1866, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Molecular Basis of Disease. Elsevier B.V.; 2020.
- Jang JY, et al. The role of mitochondria in aging. Vol. 128, Journal of Clinical Investigation. American Society for Clinical Investigation; 2018. p. 3662–70.
- Li Y, et al. Quercetin, inflammation and immunity [Internet]. Vol. 8, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2016 [cited 2021 Mar 26]. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4808895/
- Eng QY, Thanikachalam PV, Ramamurthy S. Molecular understanding of Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases [Internet]. Vol. 210, Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Elsevier Ireland Ltd; 2018 [cited 2021 Mar 26]. p. 296–310. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28864169/
- Greco T, Shafer J, Fiskum G. Sulforaphane inhibits mitochondrial permeability transition and oxidative stress. Free Radical Biology and Medicine [Internet]. 2011 Dec 15 [cited 2021 Mar 26];51(12):2164–71. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3278304/
- PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Coenzyme Q10 (PDQ®): Health Professional Version [Internet]. PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. National Cancer Institute (US); 2002 [cited 2021 Mar 26]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26389329