How Your Mitochondria Influence Your Health (Part One)


How Your Mitochondria Influence Your Health

January 24, 2016

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By Dr. Mercola

Mitochondria: you might not know what they are, but they are vital to your health. Rhonda Patrick, PhD is a biomedical scientist who has studied the interaction between mitochondrial metabolism, aberrant metabolism, and cancer.

She's also done research on aging at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California.

“I’ve had a variety of experiences doing research on aging, cancer, and metabolism,” she explains. “Now, currently, I’m in Oakland, California, where I’m doing my post-doctoral research, working with Dr. Bruce Ames...

The primary focus of the research is the role of nutrition in preventing age-related diseases like cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and different inflammatory-related diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

I've been doing a lot of research currently on nutrition, specifically what roles micronutrients play in biological processes; how inadequacies and certain micronutrients can lead to insidious types of damage that can accumulate over decades, [and how they] lead to things like cancer and Alzheimer's disease."

Part of her work involves the identification of early biomarkers of disease. For example, DNA damage is an early biomarker for cancer. She then tries to determine which micronutrients might help repair that DNA damage.

She's also investigated mitochondrial function and metabolism, which is one of my own most recent passions. Dr. Lee Know's book, "Life - The Epic Story of Our Mitochondria", is a really good primer if you want to learn more about this topic after listening to this interview.

Your mitochondria have enormous potential to influence your health, specifically cancer, and I'm starting to believe that optimizing mitochondrial metabolism may in fact be at the core of effective cancer treatment.

The Importance of Optimizing Mitochondrial Metabolism

Mitochondria are tiny organelles, originally thought to be derived from bacteria. Red blood cells and skin cells have very little to none, while germ cells have 100,000, but most cells have one to 2,000 of them. They're the primary source of energy for your body.

In order for your organs to function properly, they require energy, and that energy is produced by the mitochondria.

Since mitochondrial function is at the very heart of everything that occurs in your body, optimizing mitochondrial function - and preventing mitochondrial dysfunction by making sure you get all the right nutrients and precursors your mitochondria need - is extremely important for health and disease prevention.

For example, one of the universal characteristics of cancer cells is they have serious mitochondrial dysfunction with radically decreased numbers of functional mitochondria.

"The mitochondria can still function in cancer cells. But one of the things that occur [in cancer cells] is that they immediately become dependent on glucose and they're not using their mitochondria even though they have mitochondria there. They make this metabolic switch," Patrick says.

Dr. Otto Warburg was a physician with a Ph.D. in chemistry and was close friends with Albert Einstein. Most experts recognize Warburg as the greatest biochemist of the 20th century.

He received a Nobel Prize in 1931 for his discovery that cancer cells use glucose as a source of energy production. This is called the "Warburg Effect" and, sadly, to this day it is essentially ignored by nearly every expert.

I am beyond convinced that using a ketogenic diet, which radically improves mitochondrial health, could help most cancers, especially if used in conjunction with glucose fermentation poisons like 3-bromopyruvate.

How Mitochondria Produce Energy

To produce energy, your mitochondria require oxygen from the air you breathe and fat and glucose from the food you eat.

These two processes — breathing and eating — are coupled together in a process called oxidative phosphorylation. That's what the mitochondria use to generate energy in the form of ATP.

Your mitochondria have a series of electron transport chains in which they pass electrons from the reduced form of the food you eat to combine it with oxygen from the air you breathe and ultimately to form water.

This process drives protons across the mitochondrial membrane, which recharges ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate). ATP is the carrier of energy throughout your body.

However, that process also produces byproducts such as reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are damaging to your cells, and your mitochondrial DNA, which are then transferred to your nuclear DNA.

So there's a trade-off. In producing energy, your body also ages from the damaging aspects from the ROS that are generated. How quickly your body ages largely depends on how well your mitochondria work, and how much damage can be minimized by diet optimization.

Mitochondria's Role in Cancer

When cancer cells are present, the reactive oxygen species produced as a byproduct of ATP production normally send a signal that sets in motion a process of cellular suicide, also known as apoptosis.

Since you generate cancer cells every day, this is a good thing. By killing off damaged cells, your body can eliminate and replace them with healthy cells.

Cancer cells, however, are resistant to this suicide protocol, and have a built-in defense against it as articulately explained by Dr. Warburg and subsequently by Thomas Seyfried, who has done extensive research on cancer as a metabolic disease 

As explained by Patrick:

"One of the mechanisms by which chemotherapeutic drugs work is they create reactive oxygen species. They create damage, and that's enough to push that cancer cell to die.

I think the reason for that is because, a cancer cell — which is not using its mitochondria, meaning it's not producing those reactive oxygen species any longer — all of a sudden you force it to use its mitochondria and you get a burst of reactive oxygen species because that's what mitochondria do, and boom, death, because that cancer cell is already primed for that death. It's ready to die."

The Benefits of Avoiding Late-Night Eating

I've been a fan of intermittent fasting for quite some time for a variety of reasons, certainly longevity and health issues, but also because it appears to provide powerful cancer prevention and treatment benefit. And the mechanism for that is related to the effect fasting has on your mitochondria.

As mentioned, a major side effect of the transfer of electrons that the mitochondria are involved in is that some leak from the electron transport chain to react with oxygen to form the free radical superoxide.

Superoxide anion, the product of a one electron reduction of oxygen, is the precursor of most reactive oxygen species and a mediator in oxidative chain reactions. These oxygen free radicals attack the lipids in your cell membranes, protein receptors, enzymes, and DNA that can prematurely kill your mitochondria.

Some free radicals are actually good and your body requires them to regulate cellular function, but problems develop when you have excessive free radical production. Sadly that is the case for the majority of the population and why most diseases, especially cancers, are acquired. There are two possible solutions to this problem:

1. Increase your antioxidants

2. Reduce mitochondrial free radical production

To be continued…


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Sources and References:


Mercola, J. (2016). “How Your Mitochondria Influence Your Health.” Joseph Mercola, published 24 January 2016. Accessed 22 February 2016. <>


Image Credit: Mitochondrial Encephalopathies: Potential Relationships to Autism?. <

events/mitochondrial.htm>. Published 20 March 2013. Accessed 23 February 2016.


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