I believe one of the best strategies for reducing mitochondrial free radical production is to limit the amount of fuel you feed your body. This is a noncontroversial position as calorie restriction has consistently shown many therapeutic benefits. This is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting works, as it limits the window that you are eating and automatically reduces your calories.
It is particularly effective if you avoid eating several hours before going to sleep as that is your most metabolically lowered state. A review paper (1) that provides much of the experimental work for the above explanation was published in 2011, titled "Mitochondrial DNA Damage and Animal Longevity: Insights from Comparative Studies."
It may be too complex for many laypeople, but the take-home message is that since your body uses the least amount of calories when sleeping, you'll want to avoid eating close to bedtime because adding excess fuel at this time will generate excessive free radicals that will damage your tissues, accelerate aging, and contribute to chronic disease.
Other Ways Fasting Promotes Healthy Mitochondrial Function
Patrick also notes that part of the mechanism by which fasting works is that your body has to rely on lipids and stored fats for energy, which means your cells are forced to use their mitochondria. Your mitochondria are the only mechanisms by which your body can make energy from fat. So, fasting helps activate your mitochondria.
She also believes this plays a huge part in the mechanism by which intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet may kill cancer cells, and why certain drugs that activate mitochondria can kill cancer cells. Again, it’s because it creates a burst of reactive oxygen species, the damage from which tips the scale and causes the cancer cells to die.
“Of course, there are a lot of very other interesting mechanisms that occur when you’re fasting,” she says. “Your body also clears away damaged cells through a process called autophagy, which basically means [that] when a cell [is] damaged, it can die. But if it doesn’t die, sometimes it becomes what’s called senescent and this happens a lot with aging. What that means is that the cell is not dead but it’s not really alive either. It’s not doing its function.
It's just kind of sitting around in your body secreting pro-inflammatory molecules, things that are damaging other nearby cells thereby accelerating the aging process because inflammation drives aging in so many different ways. Autophagy clears away those cells that are just sitting there creating damage and not doing much else, which is nice because that's also a very important biological mechanism for staying healthy."
Feeding Your Mitochondria
In terms of nutrition, Patrick emphasizes the importance of the following nutrients; important co-factors needed for your mitochondrial enzymes to function properly:
• CoQ10 or ubiquinol (the reduced form)
• L-Carnitine, which shuttles fatty acids to the
• D-ribose, which is a raw material for the ATP
• Omega-3 fatty acids
• All B vitamins, including riboflavin, thiamine, and
• Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
As noted by Patrick:
“I prefer to get as many micronutrients as I can from whole foods for a variety of reasons. One, they are complexed with fiber help with absorption. The nutrients are also in the right ratios. You’re not getting too much. The balance is right. And there are other components that are probably yet to be identified in there.
You have to be very vigilant in making sure you’re eating a very broad spectrum [of foods] and getting the right micronutrients. I think that taking a B complex supplement is good for that reason.
It’s the reason I take one, and also for the reason that as we age, we also do not get B vitamins into ourselves as readily, largely due to our cell membranes getting stiffer. This changes the way B vitamins are transported into the cell. B vitamins are water soluble so they’re not stored in fat. There’s not really an upper toxicity associated with them. If anything, you’re going to pee a little bit more out. But I really think they’re beneficial.”
Exercise Helps Keep Your Mitochondria Young
Exercise also promotes mitochondrial health, as it forces your mitochondria to work harder. As mentioned earlier, one of the side effects of mitochondria working harder is that they're making reactive oxygen species, which act as signaling molecules. One of the functions they signal is to make more mitochondria. So, when you exercise, your body will respond by creating more mitochondria to keep up with the heightened energy requirement.
Aging is inevitable. But your biological age can be quite different from your chronological age, and your mitochondria have a lot to do with your biological aging. Patrick cites a recent study showing how people can age biologically at very different rates. The researchers measured over a dozen different biomarkers, such as telomere length, DNA damage, cholesterol LDL, glucose metabolism, and insulin sensitivity, at three points in people's lives: ages 22, 32 and 38.
"What was found was that, if you look at someone who was 38, they biologically could look 10 years younger based on their biological markers, or 10 years older. Even though they were the same age, they aged biologically at very different rates.
In fact, if you took a photograph of these individuals and showed it to another bystander and ask them to guess their chronological age, what was interesting, and this is part of the publication, is that people would guess their biological age rather than their chronological age."
So regardless of your actual age, how old you look corresponds with your biological biomarkers, which are largely driven by the health of your mitochondria. So the point is that while aging is inevitable, you have enormous control over the way you age, which is really empowering. And one of the key factors is keeping your mitochondria in good working order.
As noted by Patrick, "youthfulness" is not so much about your chronological age, but rather how old you feel, and how well your body works:
"I want to learn how to optimize my own cognitive performance and my athletic performance. I want to also increase the youthful part of my life. I want to be 90. I want to be out there, surfing in San Diego just like I was when I was 20. I would like to not degenerate as rapidly as some people do. I like to stave off that degeneration and extend the youthful part of my life as long as I possibly can so I can enjoy life."
To learn more about Patrick’s work, please visit her website, FoundMyFitness.com. She also has a podcast where she interviews health professionals and scientists on a variety of topics related to health. On her website, you can find videos in which she summarizes key information in clear and easy to understand layman’s terms. You can also sign up for her newsletter, in which she publishes longer, heavily referenced articles.
Click here for the free report, “Nutrigenomics, Epigenetics, and Stress Tolerance: A New Heuristic for Lifestyle Strategy,” which covers some of the topics covered in this interview today, including: the role of DNA damage in aging cells and cancer cells, how blood cells from people show they age at different rates, how intermittent fasting increases autophagy (which clears away damaged cells) and increases genes that produce more healthy mitochondria, and more! You may also want to review her report, “How to Personalize Your Nutrition Based On Your Genes.”
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Sources and References:
Mercola, J. (2016). “How Your Mitochondria Influence Your Health.” Mercola.com. Joseph Mercola, published 24 January 2016. Accessed 22 February 2016. <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/24/how-mitochondria-influences-health.aspx>
Image Credit: Mitochondrial Encephalopathies: Potential Relationships to Autism?. <http://www.ninds.nih.gov/news_and_events/
events/mitochondrial.htm>. Published 20 March 2013. Accessed 23 February 2016.
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