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Mitochondria - power plants of the cell

What are mitochondria?  

Do you lack energy while exercising or at work?

Did you know that mitochondria are responsible for the energy of your cells? 

Mitochondria are bean-shaped cell organelles surrounded by a double membrane. 

They are often referred to as the powerhouses of our cells and in fact, mitochondria are responsible for 90% of our body's energy balance. As the only cell part, they have their own DNA. This allows them to reproduce on their own.  

It is essential for our cells to have a lot of energy available, which is why they need a high amount of our energy molecule adenosine triphosphate - ATP for short. To produce this molecule, our cells need several hundred to several thousand functioning mitochondria.  

In addition to energy production, mitochondria are also involved in the production of DNA, hemoglobin, estrogen and testosterone. They help metabolize and produce cholesterol. Antioxidants, such as coenzyme Q10, neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. 

How do mitochondria produce energy?  

Mitochondria are therefore called the power plants of our cells, because they are responsible for the energy needed by the cells. They combine the food we ingest (glucose from carbohydrates, ketone bodies from fatty acids and protein) with the air we breathe to produce energy for our cells and store it in the form of ATP. This energy production occurs through three complexes and is called cellular respiration.  

More about ATP

Free Radicals  

During cellular respiration, free radicals are produced as by-products. These perform important functions in our body.  However, if too many free radicals are present over a long period of time, oxidative stress occurs, which can affect our cells and our health. In a healthy mitochondrion, as few free radicals as possible are produced, and it also has built-in buffering and protective systems to protect itself and the cell.  

Where are the most mitochondria?  

Since mitochondria provide our energy, we also find them clustered where a lot of it is needed. In total, every human being has up to 100 quadrillion mitochondria. A single cell contains more than 1,000 mitochondria. The higher the energy demand of the cell, the more mitochondria it has. Heart muscle cells have 5,000, nerve cells between 4,500 - 6,000 and egg cells have the highest number of mitochondria with 100,000. If you calculate the energy production of our mitochondria per gram, they convert between 10,000 and 50,000 times more energy per second than the sun.

Mitochondria make up 10% of our body weight and nearly 40% of the weight of our heart. Every day, they produce about as much energy in the form of ATP as we weigh. In a healthy adult, that's 60 to 80 kilograms - and that's at rest. 

Structure of the mitochondria  

The mitochondrion consists of five compartments: The outer membrane, the intermembrane space, the inner membrane, the cristae, and the matrix.   

The membranes are composed of phospholipid bilayers. Phospholipids belong to the group of membrane lipids, they have a water-loving (hydrophilic) head and two fat-loving (lipophilic) fatty acid tails. This allows them to form a boundary layer between water and fat. This boundary layer is permeable to lipophilic molecules. Large hydrophilic or polar molecules, as well as ions, nucleic acids, proteins and large particles can only pass through the membrane with the help of various transport mechanisms.   

It thus protects the cell interior against harmful influences from the outside and is responsible for the necessary exchange of substances from the outside to the inside, as well as from the inside to the outside. In addition, the membrane takes over the communication between the cells, provided that the cell is within a cell association.   

The intermembrane space is the space between the outer and inner membrane. Here the concentration of small molecules such as ions and sugars is the same as in the cytosol. The invaginations of the inner membrane determines the mitochondrial type (cristae, tubule, saccule, prism). The invaginations greatly increase the surface area of the inner membrane where chemical reactions can take place, thus enhancing its ability to produce ATP.  

The matrix is the space enclosed by the inner membrane. It contains 2/3 of all the proteins of the mitochondrion. The matrix is relevant in ATP production.  

Healthy mitochondria, healthy organism?  

It is very important for our health to have plenty of energy for our cells. If our cells do not get the energy they need, they cannot perform their intended tasks. Cells are only able to survive if they have enough energy available in the form of ATP. Without ATP, you couldn't run, think, or engage in athletic activities.  

In recent decades, science has found that many health problems are related to our mitochondrial health. It is now known that some diseases and even the progression of aging processes are strongly related to the function of our mitochondria.   

Mitochondria and how we age  

 Is there a grain of truth in the saying; "At 30, the first aches and pains begin."?  

When we are young and healthy, our mitochondria are working at 100%. They provide us with the energy our cells need. We are full of energy, recover quickly and sleep well.  

As we age, our mitochondria lose function. It is thought that starting in our thirties, 10% of our mitochondrial function declines per decade.   

We may not notice it immediately, but signs such as less energy and a longer recovery time, may indicate the decreased efficiency of our mitochondria.  

We also begin to age visibly as our skin cells have less energy available to produce collagen and elastin. What we are experiencing is the aging process.  

Why do we have fewer mitochondria in old age?  

As we get older, we often feel listless and less active, and we are often less mobile. This can be partially attributed to our mitochondria.   

Why mitochondria are less active with age is still being researched.  

The following conclusions have been published in recent studies: 

  • Communication of mitochondria and other parts in cells play a key role (phospholipids are needed for this).  

  • Oxidative and nitrosative stress (solution: antioxidants)  

  • Cell stress causes protons to flow back into the mitochondrion without generating ATP (mitochondria become leaky)  

  • Micronutrient deficiency  

How does a dysfunction affect our mitochondria?  

Damaged mitochondria provide our cells with too little energy, so they can no longer perform their tasks adequately.  

For example, if a liver cell has damaged mitochondria, it will detoxify slower, a skin cell would age faster, and a muscle cell will perform less. For nerve cells in the brain, with mitochondria that are not fully functional, the ability to concentrate would decrease and memory would not function optimally.  

One of the most important roles of mitochondria is to initiate natural cell death (apoptosis). This is especially important when a cell transforms into a cancer cell. Since the death of the cell can prevent the survival and proliferation of tumor cells.   

What affects our mitochondria?   

There are some factors that have a lasting effect on our mitochondria. Although the mitochondria in our body are constantly renewing themselves, any damage that occurs is passed on to the newly forming mitochondria.  

The following factors can permanently affect our mitochondria:  

  • Chronic inflammation of any kind  

  • Antibiotics  

  • Heavy metals, solvents or pesticides  

  • Free radicals (oxidative stress)  

  • Chronic micronutrient deficiencies  

  • Various medications  

  • Metabolic disorder HPU (hemopyrrollactamuria)  

  • Chronic intestinal diseases  

  • Chronic instability of the upper cervical spine (e.g. after whiplash or falls)  

  • Insufficient detoxification capacity of the body  

  • Chronic stress  

How can you support your mitochondria?  

Already known recommendations for good health are also relevant for mitochondria. These include a balanced diet, exercise and sufficient restful sleep.  

Building muscle mass can increase mitochondrial efficiency. In addition, repeated exercise can help increase our mitochondria. Fasting or the ketogenic diet can also lead to the biogenesis of new mitochondria. Antioxidants play an important role as free radical scavengers and can counteract oxidative stress. A supply of so-called mitotropic micronutrients alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, the B vitamins, selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C, E, A, D3 and K can also support your mitochondria.  

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