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5 Ways to Improve Mitochondrial Health

Written by Health writer Gerda Venter

Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn

Mitochondria are tiny organelles inside your cells that play a big role in your health. The health of mitochondria is essential for the cell's overall health and in turn, your body. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated in various diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Mitochondria has many vital functions, but its most important role is processing the food you eat and combining it with the oxygen you breathe to transform it into a form of energy that your cells can use to power their activity. This form of energy created is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Because mitochondria generate around 90% of all ATP produced in your body, they are known as “the powerhouse of the cell.” The energy produced facilitates all the biological processes needed to sustain human life, including breathing, thinking, talking, and walking.

When mitochondria work optimally, cells are fueled efficiently, and biological pathways run smoothly. In other words, when your mitochondria are healthy, you will be fit and healthy. The more mitochondria you have, the healthier you are, which increases your ability to create energy. However, when mitochondrial function is disrupted, oxidative stress can disrupt many processes and damage cellular components. Mitochondrial dysfunction caused by damage accumulation consequently leads to disease and premature ageing. If there is an issue with generating energy from mitochondria, cell injury and even cell death may follow.

Mitochondrial Health and Disease

Mitochondrial disease is a group of disorders caused by dysfunctional mitochondria. Mitochondrial diseases are chronic, genetic, often inherited disorders that occur when mitochondria fail to produce enough energy for the body to function correctly. Mitochondria that don’t work properly can affect energy-intensive systems within the body, including your liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain, digestive tract, and muscles.

There are currently over 300 illnesses associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. About 1 in 4000 people have the disease. Daily bodily processes such as digestion, cognition, and cardiovascular function are affected without effective mitochondrial functioning. All human biochemical reactions require energy to function, and this energy is created in the mitochondria, making their role irreplaceable.

Mitochondria are also involved in preventing the creation of free radicals and reversing oxidative damage. Oxidative stress is caused by certain medications, smoking, alcohol, environmental toxins, pesticides and a diet high in high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Oxidative stress leads to damage to mitochondria which in turn is linked to a variety of disorders such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Migraines

  • Schizophrenia

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Migraines

  • Epilepsy

  • Bipolar disease and many more

Symptoms of mitochondrial diseases

Symptoms of mitochondrial diseases depend on which cells of the body are affected. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and involve one or more organs. Symptoms include: