Mitochondria, also known as “the powerhouses of our cells,” are tiny structures located within the cells of our body that are tasked with converting the nutrients and oxygen we consume into energy. Responsible for the production of nearly 90 percent of the energy we, as humans, need to sustain life, it is important to ensure your mitochondria are functioning efficiently. While poor mitochondrial function has been associated with health complications such as autoimmunity, cancer, neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and heart failure, the good news is, there are relatively simple ways to boost your mitochondrial function. Doing so can not only improve your energy levels, it may also help slow the aging process.
Below are tips on how to ensure your tiny energy factories are functioning optimally.
Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a quality night’s sleep each night can help boost mitochondrial function. Not only has research identified a connection between the function of one’s mitochondria and one’s circadian rhythm, it is during sleep that our body eliminates “neutral waste” (the byproduct of thinking) that can adversely impact our neural mitochondria.
To ensure you are getting adequate rest:
Adhere to a strict sleep-wake cycle (go to bed and wake up at the same time daily); and
Eliminate screen time at least one hour before bed.
Eat quality foods
The foods we consume on a daily basis can either boost or inhibit our mitochondrial function. The first step to improving the function of your mitochondria via diet is to eliminate excess and refined carbohydrates such as soda and white bread. Consuming these foods, surprisingly, can alter both the shape and function of the mitochondria in brain cells. It can also alter hormone production.
In lieu of refined carbohydrates, it is important to consume quality sources of protein such as grass-fed meats, nuts, seeds, beans, and pasture-raised eggs. These foods contain nutrients such as creatine and L-carnitine that are crucial for supplying your mitochondria with energy.
Be sure to also consume foods rich in antioxidants (grapes, dark chocolate, and pistachios) as well as foods high in omega-3s and alpha-lipoic acid (wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, spinach, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, etc.).
Inflammatory foods should be eliminated.
Control caloric intake
Overeating can not only lead to obesity, but can cause an increase in systemic inflammation. This inflammation can eventually lead to oxidative stress that, in turn, can cause detrimental changes to our mitochondria. Reducing caloric intake, however, lowers the production of harmful free radicals in our body and can improve the function of your mitochondria.
To control caloric intake, establish your personal caloric needs and adhere to a regimen of three (3) to four (four) meals per day. Intermittent fasting–eating all meals within an eight (8) to ten (10) hour window–may also help control caloric intake. Intermittent fasting can also help improve mitochondrial function by allowing the body to eliminate damaged mitochondria and build new during the fasting phase.
Thirty (30) minutes of physical activity per day is an excellent way to boost mitochondrial function. Because the body expends energy and increases oxygen intake during exercise, it is simultaneously forced to produce more mitochondria.
Not only do stress hormones adversely affect nervous, endocrine, and immune function, they also affect mitochondrial function. Utilizing relaxation techniques such as daily meditation, massage, or gentle stretching can help reduce psychological stress.
Use a sauna
A form of heat therapy, utilizing a sauna has been shown to increase the energy requirements of mitochondria and thereby increase their efficiency. Two (2) to three (3) sauna sessions per week for 15 minutes is recommended for optimal mitochondrial function.