I’ve briefly talked about mitochondria in the past, but I wanted to dive a little deeper into the function of mitochondria and why it’s so important for achieving optimum health and (anti-aging) longevity.
Mitochondria are tiny organelles found in most cells. It converts nutrients into ATP which is what our cells use to create energy. ATP is required for just about every metabolic function in your body. In a nutshell, mitochondria is your engine and how well it functions can determine how healthy and long you live.
Dr. Wahl stated that the one consistent factor found in studies of mice with neurological degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease was the lack of mitochondrial health and function that they all displayed. This is why she decided to embark on a quest to find out how to stop mitochondrial decay and how to achieve and maintain healthy functioning mitochondria.
One of the most effective ways to maintain healthy mitochondria is to reduce the amount of free radicals mitochondria have to manage. A normal, healthy, functioning mitochondria can easily handle normal rates of free radical production. However, if free radical production increases and stays at a higher rate, it can overwhelm it and eventually wear it down.
And here’s an added twist, you see mitochondria produce free radicals as a byproduct every time it produces ATP. I know it’s a bit of a conundrum, but it’s completely fine as long as the rate at which free radicals are produced is normal.
And one of the best ways to keep free radical production manageable is through nutrition and exercise.
By way of nutrition, mitochondria are able to convert fats (and ketones) more efficiently to ATP than carbs, which means fats (and ketones) generate less free radicals as byproducts than carbs.
So by eating a diet (similar to what I recommend in my Lean Body Diet that comes as a part of my MAX Workouts program) that consists of quality proteins and healthy fats, while keeping your carb intake lower by eliminating bad carbs (which includes all things processed and refined, all grains and most starchy foods) and sticking to nutrient dense carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits, you’ll be able to shift your body’s metabolic needs from being carbohydrate dependent to becoming fat adapted. This way you can keep free radical production in check, and help optimize the health and function of your mitochondria.
The other effective way to prevent mitochondrial decay is to increase the raw number of mitochondria available in your body so it doesn’t get overwhelmed even if there is a temporary influx of free radicals. The more mitochondria you have the better, since it provides your body with greater energy and allows all metabolic functions to run more efficiently and effectively.
One of the best (natural) ways to help increase mitochondrial production is exercise. When you exercise you deplete energy and stress your body, which is a good thing, because and in doing so it signals Adenosine Monophosphate - Activated Protein Kinase AMPK.
AMPK is an enzyme that regulates metabolic energy, so when there’s a demand for more energy, such as what your muscles need during an intense workout, it provides your muscles energy by generating more mitochondria. In addition, it also activates fat oxidizing (fat burning) metabolic pathways while inhibiting fat synthesizing (fat gaining) metabolic pathways so you can burn more fat!
By the way, this is also beneficial for people that suffer from insulin resistance (Type 2 Diabetes) as well as people that have insulin insensitivity (one of the most common reasons for gaining fat) because it helps with re-sensitizing insulin.
Other energy depleting stressors such as fasting and ketosis also trigger AMPK, however exercise (in my opinion) is the by far the easiest and most sustainable way to generate more mitochondria.
One simple reason is because you can stimulate AMPK to produce more mitochondria by doing all kinds of exercises, from long low intensity activities like walking, hiking and easy to moderate running to short, high intensity exercises.
All in all, it’s not very difficult to attain healthy functioning mitochondria. There are many ways to elicit AMPK to generate more mitochondria, and keeping free radical production manageable can be achieved by eating a healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants while eliminating processed and refined foods that are high in bad carbs.
Healthy functioning mitochondria provide you with more energy, a lean and toned physique and most importantly optimum health, free of degenerative diseases (especially prone to aging).
Here are 8 simple steps you can take to maximize your mitochondria function and optimize your health:
- Eat a diet rich in quality proteins (grass fed meat, organ meat, salmon etc.), healthy fats (omega 3 fats, avocado, coconuts, olive oil), nutrient dense vegetables (kale, spinach, collards, chard, etc.) and fruits (any kind of berries).
- Include sulfur rich foods like garlic, shallots and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) in your diet.
- Eliminate all processed foods and refined carbs (breads, rice, oats, pasta and even tofu!) Note: Soy is not processed but should be eliminated as well unless it’s fermented.
- Eliminate gluten, dairy and all other foods that have high incidences of food intolerance which can cause inflammation.
- Gluten-free grains (wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat etc.) should initially be eliminated as well. It can be re-introduced into your diet, one by one, once you have achieved the desired level of health.
- Legumes are the same as gluten-free grains. They should also be eliminated at first, until you have achieved the desired level of health.
- Exercise! You can do long low or moderately intense activities (walking, hiking, jogging etc.) as well as short, high intensity workouts. I prefer doing higher intensity workouts (like MAX Workouts) since it provides other benefits like increased fat burning, greater strength and enhanced overall fitness.
- Lastly, you can include supplements, if you can’t get enough vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fatty acids from real foods: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, CoQ 10 enzyme, resveratrol. How much of each vitamin, mineral and omega 3 fats you need varies with your diet and activity level. But keep in mind that it’s still best to get as much nutrients from real foods first!
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