Mitochondrial Damage May Be Easier to Reverse Than You Think

Mitochondrial Damage At a Glance

Our mitochondria generate energy in the form of ATP within each of our cells. If mitochondria are dysfunctional, it will reduce performance and increase the rate of aging.

Mitochondrial damage can accumulate over time, leading to a number of diseases including diabetes, neurological disorders, and heart failure [1][2].

It is possible to reverse mitochondrial damage, but interventions must be made early on in the dysfunction before the damage becomes irreversible.

Within this piece, we will explore what causes mitochondrial damage, how to repair mitochondria, and how to maintain mitochondrial health.

Why Does Mitochondrial Damage Occur?

As early as 1960, scientists discovered the connection between damaged mitochondria and disease.

The main theory of how mitochondrial damage occurs can get pretty scientific. We’ll break it down into simple terms.

Mitochondria are vital because they turn calories from our food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the energy that all of our cells need to function.

In order to create energy from food, the mitochondria uses the electron transport chain. This is a vital process in creating energy, but it also creates free radicals.

The free radicals are a byproduct of producing energy, but it makes mitochondria vulnerable to oxidative damage.

The free radicals then harm the mitochondria, which in tern produce less ATP. The body’s antioxidant defenses weaken with age and the mitochondria become increasingly damaged.

This is what Dr. Julius Goepp calls the “cellular death spiral” [3].

A paper from 1999 concludes that “…these reactive oxygen species may lead to irreversible damage of mitochondrial DNA, membrane lipids and proteins, resulting in mitochondrial dysfunction and ultimately cell death.” [4]

What scientists didn’t know until 2007 was that mitochondrial damage is reversible… under the right conditions.

Mitochondrial Damage Accelerates Aging (and Why it Matters)

A study published in 2008 in Molecular Nutrition Food Research concluded that damaged mitochondria contribute to “…a wide range of seemingly unrelated disorders” including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Migraine headaches
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

The article continues with at least half a dozen more [5].

Even more concerning, the study concludes that medications have been cited as a major cause of mitochondrial damage and adverse effects.

Specifically, SSRI mitochondrial damage is most common.

The good news is that consistent scientific inquiry has uncovered numerous ways to identify mitochondrial damage markers and address them.

Mitochondrial Damage Test

It is challenging to measure the health of mitochondria directly. It is even harder to test the health of mitochondria trying to plan for future dysfunction.

A mitochondrial damage test usually consists of bloodwork and identifying biomarkers that indicate healthy ATP production.

This test can be referred to as an “ATP profile”, which you can ask your doctor about [6].

As of 2013, scientists in Australia discovered another method of using body fluids to diagnose dysfunctional mitochondria [7].

From this study came the MitoSwab test, which has a 84% correlation to the muscle biopsy test (known as the gold standard). You can find that test here and the instructions here.

This is the best bet for avid biohackers and people who generally want to know the health of their mitochondria. It generally cost about $200 – $400.

Unless you or your child has severe health problems, saliva or blood work will be the most affordable.

The other options include complex genetic testing, muscle biopsies, and fMRI brain imaging [8].

How Damaged Mitochondria Sabotages Workflow

The health of our mitochondria is hard to feel in a subjective sense.

You may feel more concentration when you take a stimulant like Adderall or more relaxed with an anti-anxiety nootropic like cannabidiol, but rarely do people feel their healthy mitochondria.

We may be able to see how damaged mitochondria sabotage the work we are doing if we compare it to vegans / vegetarians and their use of creatine, for example.

Research suggests that vegans and vegetarians who supplement with creatine (a nootropic that greatly increases cellular ATP) improved their cognition and physical muscle mass [9][10].

This is a bit of a stretch, but imagine a scenario where mitochondrial damage is preventing ATP production. You might feel fatigued, your brain works less efficiently, and so does your body.

One of the main reasons we focused on mitochondria with our nootropic ELEVATE is because it helps steadily increase cognitive function.

Reversing Mitochondrial Damage via Lifestyle

The largest impact you can have on mitochondrial damage is changing lifestyle. Assuming you catch the dysfunction early enough, there are many things you can do.

The two most effective ways to combat aging according to scientific literature are:

  • Fasting / caloric restriction
  • Exercise

Dr. Jason Fung is a major proponent of fasting. In a Medium article, he clearly outlines the science of how fasting influences mitochondrial health.

Fasting stimulates certain mechanisms like mitophagy and mitochondrial biogenesis. Fasting helps mitochondria “clean house” and produce new mitochondria more efficiently.

Certain types of exercise (the consistent kind!) has a positive effect on mitochondria.

Specifically, high intensity interval training (HIIT) can stimulate the growth of new mitochondria (called mitochondrial biogenesis) [11].

Here is a 10 minute video from Dr. Ford Brewer discussing HIIT as an efficient tool for mitochondrial health (for young and older people):

Obviously other lifestyle choices play a significant role in the health of our mitochondria as well. We cover many of the habits in our mitochondria supplement and lifestyle guide.

Heart is An Uncommon Mitochondrial Booster

One thing we did not cover in that guide was a specific dietary resource that I’m fond of: heart.

Because I try to hunt the meat that I eat, I have been blessed to consume heart, which is one of the greatest sources of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

As I’ll discuss in the section below, coq10 may be one of the most important molecules for aiding in damaged mitochondria.

Here is a picture of a bison heart I ate recently:

How to Repair Mitochondria with Nootropics

The list of nootropics that can repair mitochondria is long. Here we will try to stick to some of the basics.

In general, we want these nootropics (supplements that improve mental performance) to either generate healthy new mitochondria or heal damaged mitochondria.

CoQ10

A crucial ingredient for mitochondrial health is CoQ10. There are two mechanisms or pathways that make CoQ10 special.

First, CoQ10 is required for the electron transport chain we mentioned earlier. Without this molecule, our mitochondria cannot reliably generate energy.

Second, coenzyme q10 scavenges free radicals and can positively impact oxidative damage [12]. This is why there is so much CoQ10 in our heart.

The same holds true for animals, which is why heart can be a valuable dietary source of CoQ10.

Maintaining adequate levels of CoQ10 support our heart and brain from diseases like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In animal models, simple supplementation of CoQ10 can protect tissue from DNA damage, boost mitochondria function, and increase lifespan [13][14].

Whether this translates to humans is currently unknown, but if mitochondrial damage is caught early enough it probably will. This is a key ingredient in ELEVATE.

PQQ

Another important ingredient for mitochondrial repair is pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). Like CoQ10, there are multiple pathways that PQQ supports.

One is antioxidant defenses where PQQ protects the mitochondria from free radicals and oxidative stress.

The other advantage of PQQ is that it supports the generation of new mitochondria (which declines with age) [15].

Research shows PQQ supplementation aids in mitochondrial biogenesis and deficiency is correlated with lower PQQ levels [16].

NAD+

Supplements like nicotinamide riboside and NAD+ have become popular in anti-aging, longevity, and biohacking circles.

While these supplements can be effective, the real goal is to maintain a healthy ratio of NAD+ / NADH within the cells.

Numerous nootropics support this ratio. Nicotinamide riboside is one of them, NAD+ injections are another, but L-tyrosine and nicotinic acid (niacinamide) can as well.

Fix Your Mitochondria

Our mitochondria produce the energy that our body and brain needs to do work. Any mitochondrial damage negatively impacts our longevity and performance.

Any way to identify damaged mitochondrial, repair them, and maintain them will reduce the likelihood of numerous diseases that come with aging.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17170059 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11444914 
  3. https://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2010/2/Reverse-Mitochondrial-Damage/Page-01 
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891584998002160 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18626887 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680051/ 
  7. https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(13)00284-X 
  8. http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/m/mitochondrial-disease/testing-and-diagnosis 
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21118604 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16573356 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5482849/ 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17482528 
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15036411 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16127098 
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22581337 
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16424117