Living Longer: Taking Care of Your Mitochondria

 

This article is copyright © Nils Osmar 2020. It’s intended solely for informational purposes. It is not meant to be taken as, and should not be construed, as medical advice. Any changes to your lifestyle or diet should be done in consultation with your doctor or health care professional.  Interested in anti-aging? Check out the Facebook Group –– ANTI-AGING THERAPIES.

  • In this article, I’ll be talking about mitochondria, and things we can do to take care of our mitochondrial health.
  • Mitochondria are essential. I’m sure you’ve heard that “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.” But what does this mean exactly?
  • Think of mitochondria as friendly little power batteries that are living in our cells, powering all of our life processes. They power everything; we’d die without them. They’ve literally living batteries, whose energy currency is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Some cells have hundreds of mitochondria, others have thousands.
  • They’re not “us,” they’re visitors. They actually moved into our cells billions of years ago, early in the evolution of life, and there’s no way we can live without them.
  • I like thinking of them as rechargeable batteries that need to be taken care of as the years go by. If you’re tired, easily fatigued, no energy to do what you want, if you have brain fog, if your organs are wearing out, if your muscles aren’t functioning right, it’s likely because your mitochondria need recharging.
  • Or it could be that some of your mitochondria are getting old and sick. Using the battery analogy again, they can be recharged many, many times. But eventually they can become senescent. When that happens, the best approach is often to replace them.
  • Luckily, our bodies can create new mitochondria when they’re needed. When white fat turns into brown fat, for example, it’s because it’s becoming populated with thousands of new mitochondria.

STEP ONE: EATING RIGHT

  • Step ONE in taking care of your mitochondria is FEEDING them well. To do this, of course, you would feed yourself well. Dr. Terry Wahls talks about this in her book and lecture, “Minding Your Mitochondria.”
  • Like us, mitochondria need food and water. When you eat well, they eat well. They work best and are happiest when they have a wide range of nutrients.
  • Eat foods rich in B vitamins, such as organ meats, including heart and liver. Eat foods from the sea, such as sardines, wild (un-farmed) Pacific salmon, mackerel, and salmon roe.
  • Meat from animals fed an organic, grass-based, not grain-based, diet. Buffalo and wild game are also highly nourishing.
  • Eat high quality, unsweetened fermented foods such as natto and real home-made yogurt. Eat butter from pastured animals, and avoid inflammatory oils like soy oil, canola oil and most types of sunflower oil.
  • Spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage have nutrients mitochondria love. Green leafy vegetables are great. Avocados and olives are rich in oleic acid. You might plant a garden so you can grow your own fresh organic foods, and as the saying goes, “eat the rainbow.”
  • Foods like lentils and mushrooms are rich in nutrients that your mitochondria benefit from; make a weekly lentil mushroom soup. Your mitochondria need sulfur, so make sure you’re getting some in your diet. Eating organic pastured eggs, garlic, and onions is a good approach.
  • Blueberries, pomegranate arils, and blackberries are rich in nutrients that the mitochondria love.

STEP TW0: SUPPLEMENTING

  • Step TWO is SUPPLEMENTING, not so much with vitamins and minerals (though you might start with a good multivitamin supplement) but with other nutrients.
  • The supplements I recommend to support mitochondrial health include: NMN – Nicotinamide Mononucleotide or NR – Nicotinamide Riboside. Resveratrol and pterostilbene. Alpha Lipoic Acid. Alpha ketoglutarate. Glutathione, or glutathione boosters such as NAC. CoQ10 and its good buddy PQQ. All of the B vitamins. Magnesium.  L Carnitine. Zinc and selenomethionine. A high quality fish oil and krill oil if you’re not eating fish every day.
  • SUNLIGHT is also good for the mitochondria in small doses. Try to get full skin exposure to a little sunshine every day –– just enough to turn your skin a very light pink. If you’re worried about burning, take the supplement astaxanthin, which provides natural protection against sunburn.
  • RED LIGHT exposure is also very beneficial. Red and near infrared wavelengths have been found to specifically support mitochondrial health. The mitochondrial electron transport chain has been found to be photosensitive to red light wavelengths.
  • Stand in front of banks of red lights and bathe your entire body in their wavelengths, every inch of it, to red light.
  • Avoid BLUE LIGHT when you can. We all get blue light from our computers and TV screens. Try to take breaks from it, because it’s actually been shown to be bad for our mitochondria. Blue light causes oxidative stress and decreases cell survival.

The other thing to think about is HORMESIS. Hormesis is the body’s reaction to a small and measured amount of stress ––– not enough to maim or kill you, but enough to make you uncomfortable once in while. 

Hormesis it’s actually essential to our mitochondria, because it supports mitochondrial biogenesis. It happens when we experience a stress that is just bad enough to spook our body a little bit, to wake it up and make it work for a living.

  • The mechanism of hormesis is that hormetic stressors activate a regulatory gene called PGC1-Alpha. This gene then helps new mitochondria come into existence. It also activates an enzymatic reaction called AMPK.  Which is great, because activation of AMPK is one of our major pathways toward longevity.
  • Most of us have our AMPK turned off much of the time because a different enzymatic process called mTOR is turned on –– mainly because we’re shoveling food in our mouths full time. But we need AMPK turned on. AMPK us good for us in hundreds of different ways. It actually targets abdominal fat and gets rid of it. And it increases mitochondrial biogenesis.
  • We want to keep the PGC1-Alpha gene and the AMPK enzyme active much of the time (though not all of the time). (We do need mTOR on some of the time, to stay strong, have healthy bones and muscles and powerful immune systems).

Things we can do to turn on hormesis, activate AMPK, and activates PGC-1 Alpha include:

  • EXERCISING: HIIT exercise –– creating a cyclical oxygen deficit — getting seriously out of breath. Being low on oxygen, safely, for a short time, freaks out our survival mechanisms and makes the body start making more mitochondria.
  • MORE EXERCISING: We’re talking about strength training, lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises.
  • KETOSIS: Eating a ketogenic diet (low in carbs, high in fat, moderate in protein) triggers mitochondrial biogenesis.
  • COLD STRESS (cold thermogenesis): Taking cold showers or baths regularly, every day or every other day. The cold sends your mitochondria a signal that winter and cold weather are here, and they get busy making new power batteries to get you through the hard times they think are coming. (Even 1 minute in the shower will induce hormesis)
  • Keeping the house heat low set at 63 instead of 67 is an alternative way of getting some cold stress into your life. So is walking around naked on cold rainy days, though your neighbors may not appreciate it. 
  • Cold stress causes the release of Norepinephrine (NE), also called noradrenaline (NA), which increases the efficiency of your mitochondria.
  • HEAT STRESS: How: take a Sauna if you have access to one. Or a very hot bath. Close the door, put a heater on, keep the bath hot and stay in it for a half hour or so. Not scalding hot; don’t burn yourself.  Let your body temperature go up a couple of degrees. (Obviously don’t do this, or cold showers or baths, if you have a medical reason not to.)
  • INTERMITTENT FASTING (essentially: starving ourselves) sends the signal that hard times are here. There’s no food to be found. Time to turn on our survival genes. To activate AMPK (our primary longevity pathway) and switch on the very powerful PGC1-Alpha gene, try going to bed hungry… no food after 7 or 8 pm. As a side benefit, your body will start making more NAD at night when you’re hungry.
  • “If you want to live a long time, keep your house cool and go to  bed a little hungry.”
  • PROLONGED FASTING also has powerful benefits. Do a three or four day fast or fasting mimicking diet. This will actually cause your body to cannibalize your senescent cells AND senescent mitochondria and make new, young, perfect, fully functional mitochondria at the end of the fast, when you start eating again.
  • Remember: Eating triggers mTOR and the growth pathways. Eating protein keeps mTOR activated. But mTOR and AMPK are like two sides of a teeter totter. When one goes up, the other tends to go down. It’s not bad to eat protein and have your mTOR activated. But you can’t do it full time if you want to live an extended lifespan. You’ll never be able to get into mitochondrial biogenesis if you’re always weighing down the mTOR side of the teeter totter.
  • TAKING SIRTUIN ACTIVATORS such as resveratrol and pterostilbene. 
  • TAKING METFORMIN. Metformin is an AMPK activator and a powerful anti-aging drug. It also activates PGC1-Alpha. Metformin appears to slightly poison our mitochondria, but the result is beneficial, because the poisoning sends out alarm signals that trigger mitochondrial biogenesis.
  • TAKING BERBERINE. Like Metformin, berberine activates AMPK, which in turn activates PGC1-Alpha.
  • TAKING CHROMIUM. Chromium ––– which I usually take in the form of chromium picolinate –– has the advantage of activating AMPK while also raising testosterone levels. With berberine and metformin, it can be a trade-off because they activate AMPK while slightly lowering testosterone and diminishing exercise results. Chromium is the “good guy” supplement that does not have these negative side effects.  (I usually take berberine on my fasting days, but take chromium on my feasting days.)
  • LOSING WEIGHT if we’re overweight or obese. There is more PGC1-a protein in lean people than obese. Losing weight increases the expression of this gene.