Mitochondria: An Owner’s Manual
By Jeffrey Bland, PhD
My life has become all about extraordinary stories. I am a biochemist by training, and for the past four decades I have spent my career studying human physiology, and more specifically, how nutrition and other environmental factors influence health at the cellular level. I am a teacher by choice, and so I have spent these same four decades lecturing and writing. Teaching has given me the opportunity to travel more than six million miles and meet people all around the world. Through it all, every story someone tells me about a journey from a state of disease back to a state of health is riveting and inspiring.
Certainly the story of Dr. Terry Wahls is a standout, and her book, The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, is essential reading. What is my favorite thing about this functional medicine success story? Recall I am a biochemist, and so it is the fact that mitochondria play a starring role. I think everyone needs to know just how important these cellular structures are in influencing health and disease.
Why Mitochondria Matter—What Everyone Should Know
- Let’s start with how the energy gets produced. The process takes place in the mitochondria and is called metabolism—specifically, aerobic metabolism. Simply put, the food matter you have ingested is burned—that is, combined with oxygen. This particular act of burning isn’t like throwing a log on the fire, however. On the contrary. The combustion process in the mitochondria is controlled very carefully so that the energy from the food does not wholly burn away like the heat from a wood fire in your fireplace. Instead, the process of mitochondrial bioenergetics captures the energy liberated during metabolism and stores it in the form of three specific chemical compounds—adenosine triphosphate, or ATP; nicotinamide dinucleotide,
NADH; and flavin adenine dinucleotide, or FADH.
- These storage chemicals then allow the energy to be transferred to other sites within the tissue where the energy powers up the cells to do the work that cells do—contracting muscles, transporting signals, keeping the brain moving, repairing tissue, and everything else that supports the body’s core physiological processes. ATP, NADH, and FADH are our cells’ energy fuels. In essence, everything we do depends on the production and management of these cellular energy fuels that in turn rely on proper mitochondrial function.
- What’s the secret to ensuring proper mitochondrial function? Mitochondrial function is regulated by thousands of genes, the vast majority of which are influenced in their expression by our lifestyle, environment, and diet. Our surroundings, what we eat, how and how much we exercise: all these factors influence our energy level because all send messages to the genes that regulate our mitochondrial function. The secret to ensuring optimal mitochondrial function is what happens at that intersection between environment and our genes.
My new book, The Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, and Happier Life, explores the many aspects of how lifestyle, environment, and diet influence health. You can begin your path to personalized medicine today by taking a health assessment questionnaire on my website. I invite you to read a free chapter The Disease Delusion here.
~Dr. Jeffrey Bland