How nourishing your mitochondria might be fundamental to staying healthy this winter
You may have come across the word ‘mitochondria’ recently or perhaps you recall it from a school biology lesson and know that its associated with your cells and energy production in the body. It’s a new area of focus in human health and not without due cause.
A human cell is made up of many functions and organelles, which are enclosed within a strong cell wall. The mitochondria are an integral part of your cells which have many complex roles. Recent research is now suggesting that the mitochondria is the back bone of your immune system and without it functioning correctly we either have an increased susceptibility of getting sick or we are more at risk of chronic illnesses such as autoimmune diseases.
Here I will discuss the role of mitochondria in your immune system and how nourishing your mitochondria might be more effective at improving your immune health than targeting it directly with conventional treatments such as immune boosters like Echinacea or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
The “powerhouse” of your cells
Mitochondrion is a small organelle within your cells which has long been understood for its ability to turn sugars into the energy ATP which our bodies then use for biological processes. It provides essential energy to organs such as the heart, brain and muscles. Much like an engine in a car that burns fuel to power a car to drive, your mitochondria provide the energy in your cells to help them work optimally. This mighty organelle in your cells, which may have originated from bacteria and has its own separate DNA from the 23 chromosomes found in the human genome is passed down through the mother’s genes, so any genetic inheritance is on the mother’s side only.
And there’s more…, emerging evidence is suggesting mitochondria has a role in recruiting essential immune cells in your first line of defence against bacteria and viruses. Mitochondria 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.
Your immune army
The immune system is a complex arrangement of immune cells which all have a specialised function, like the duties of an army, whereby some cells attack, others recruit more immune cells and some cells specialise in memorising the enemy, so they are well prepared for any further conflicts with the same opponent. All these cells require energy from ATP to do their jobs properly so any deficit in energy because of mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to either a lethargic immune response to the enemy resulting in infection or defective military tactics on the battlefield. This can lead to inflammation and autoimmune conditions.
It is now understood that mitochondria also have a role to play in the conscription of immune cells to sites of infection and injury to provide protection and promote healing. In mitochondrial dysfunction when the immune cells are not monitored properly, they can cause damage to healthy tissue by targeting our own cells. It is therefore essential that mitochondria are nourished with the right nutrients so that they can act properly when we need them to protect us from bugs without causing damage to your own body.
Help your mitochondria to thrive
Mitochondria rely on a vast supply of nutrients to work effectively and are dependent on complexes being broken down correctly to provide the right fuel to perform their tasks. As such, both impaired genetics, malnourishment and toxic load can cause these go-getters to fall flat – but there are ways to bio-hack your body, so that any challenge that your mitochondria face can be attuned.
Antioxidants such as quercetin and resveratrol help to protect and restore mitochondria which promotes energy production in the cells. These can be found in red and purple coloured fruits and vegetables, and fresh leafy greens. Green tea is also important for mitochondria so when you need an energy boost, a green brew may be more advantageous for energy purposes than a cup of coffee. More specialised nutrients such as glucosamine, n-acetyl cysteine and coenzyme Q10 have been shown in studies to promote mitochondrial health and should be considered for people suffering with mitochondrial fatigue – symptoms for which can present themselves in various ways such as chronic fatigue, brain fog and aching muscles and joints
A new approach to fighting disease?
Perhaps we have been missing a trick all along in our quest for health and understanding the intricacies of our cells could be more important than our knowledge of distinct organ functions. Our cells make up every part of our body so if we target one function in the cell it could impact our health in totality rather than just perfecting one area. Given the immune systems relies on its vast army of cells to perform its tasks, improving the health of these cells could be fundamental in the betterment of our immune health.