The mitochondria are tiny organelles inside our cells that are responsible for the production of cellular energy. Often referred to as the ‘battery’ or ‘powerhouses of our cells’, these organelles convert the fuel from food and oxygen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the main energy ‘currency’ our cells use to run our day-to-day processes like growth and movement. 

ATP molecules carry energy in their chemical bonds and this energy is released for use as the bonds are broken. The mitochondria then recycle ATP, converting it back into its active form. In other words, the mitochondria converts the leftover parts of used ATP back into the currency that the body can spend all over again!

The mitochondria’s job is two-fold: it both creates energy and recycles ‘used’ energy back into a usable form. This is why its health and function have a huge influence on how we feel at any given moment! They produce the energy to help us get out of bed in the morning. They provide our muscles with the energy to enable us to move and lift weights. They provide our brain with the fuel to concentrate on tasks and retain new information. 

As we age, the number and function of our mitochondria naturally declines, resulting in the symptoms we typically associate with ageing such as low energy,  muscle loss, weight gain and poor cognition and memory. 

Mitochondrial dysfunction may also happen prematurely as a result of mutations in mitochondrial DNA. These are inherited maternally or as a result of toxin exposure and poor diet and lifestyle. There are a number of chronic health conditions associated with mitochondrial dysfunction including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental illness. 


How to take care of your mitochondria? 

We can protect our mitochondria and slow down the ageing process by changing how we eat and the lifestyle we live:  

  • Lower inflammation and increase antioxidants

Antioxidants are important to counteract free radicals, which are generated as a natural byproduct of mitochondrial ATP production. Free radicals cause damage to cells and mitochondria. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet high in antioxidant-rich colourful vegetables and fruit supports mitochondrial health. Sulphur-rich vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are particularly beneficial as they aid the production of glutathione, the body’s most potent antioxidant. 

Include foods high in healthy fats such as avocados, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, coconut, fatty fish (e.g. wild caught salmon, sardines and anchovies), egg yolk and grass-fed meats.  

Avoid inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, refined grains (e.g. white flour) and vegetable seed oils (e.g. canola, sunflower, soybean). 

  • Lower exposure to toxins 

Exposure to environmental toxins like heavy metals lead and mercury depletes our glutathione levels, which makes the mitochondria prone to oxidative damage. Choosing organic foods, filtering your water and using natural cleaning products and personal care products are just a few steps you can take to lower your toxic load. 

  • Improve the quality of your sleep

Poor sleep quality has been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. As we sleep, the mitochondria in our brain cells remove cellular waste, so poor sleep means a build up of toxins which damage our mitochondria and brain cells. Ways to improve your sleep quality include reducing your exposure to blue light from screens, having a regular sleep/wake cycle and avoiding stimulants like caffeine later in the day.

  • Exercise regularly

When we exercise, our demand for energy increases which triggers our mitochondria to replicate and produce more energy.  Studies have identified that high intensity interval training (HIIT) can increase the mitochondrial content of skeletal muscle cells, improving overall energy production. 

  • Expose yourself to red light

The red light wavelengths from natural sunlight are more concentrated in the morning and early evening and enhance energy production by increasing the number and function of our mitochondria. Another way to increase your red light exposure is with photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy – the therapeutic application of concentrated red light to the body.

Book your PBM session at Hana today!

Written by Shaz Andrew, Naturopath & Holistic Nutritionist

Edited 16 August 2022