By Gloria Hakkarainen, MD, FACOG, FASBP, FABAARM –
Don’t we all need a little more energy in our lives? Think of small children, running, jumping and playing all day (and night occasionally). Where did all that energy that we previously had, disappear to? Wouldn’t it be great if we could recapture those wonderful moments of boundless energy to do all the things we need to? Well interestingly, modern medicine has made some radical breakthroughs in the science of energy production in the human body. The tiny little mitochondria in our cells are known as the “powerhouses” that generate and recharge our cells. What do they do and how can studying about our mitochondria help us attain the energy we need for more vitality?
Discovered many years ago, the mitochondria are minute components of every cell in our bodies. Their job is to make ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the human body’s unit of energy. ATP is the ultimate end step of metabolism. The processing of all the foods we eat ultimately end up in ATP production. As you can imagine some people have a very efficient ‘machine’ that can pump out the ATP easily and rapidly. These folks have great boundless amounts of energy and their rate of metabolism is fast and quick. They have a “well oiled biochemical machine” and they enjoy the ability to “keep on ticking”. As we age, however, our biochemistry changes in such a way that the ATP production slows down and this occurs to most folks in their 40’s. We don’t feel as exuberant as before. We get run-down by the grind of life. What is happening?
Our biochemical production of ATP can be sluggish for several reasons. One primary reason is the depletion (lack) of nutrients that make the mitochondria run. The Krebs cycle is the phase that takes all of our macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and turns them into ATP (energy) for us to use. This wonderful cyclical pathway (also called the Tricarboxylic Acid Cycle or TCA cycle) requires many nutrients and essential minerals as co-factors. What are co-factors and how do I replenish them? These cofactors help drive the critical steps in the TCA cycle. Even better though, are commercially available tests that can actually show a patient precisely which steps in the TCA cycle they are stuck in and replenishing only the nutrients you need, will get the targeted results. Taking energy/sports drinks or indiscriminate use of energy boosting supplements can over rev the body, sending cortisol (stress hormone) levels through the roof. Ultimately patients can end up on a roller coaster of dependency upon supra physiologic amounts of heavily caffeinated and spiked products which get you over alert and then leave you crashing down so that you never feel the good natural energy state that you were looking for in the first place. By testing your TCA cycle and seeing what your body is actually doing, one can start with a more precise assessment of body energy. In this manner, patients can pin point what they need to take. The body is resilient and it is waiting for missing ingredients to get better. Once replete, the energy factory revs up again and ATP production increases.
What are the most common missing nutrients? Are there particular times in one’s life that one has declines in ATP synthesis? Why yes – it’s menopause and andropause! At this pivotal point in life, patients may see declines in levels of ubiquinone and ubiquenol- both are part of Co enzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, benfotiamine, pyridoxal 5 phosphate, carnosine and pomegranate flavonoids, D-ribrose, L-carnitine, PQQ (pyroloquinoline quinone) among others. It is important to test for deficiency prior to treatment in order to obtain best results.
Patients can also have problems with their mitochondrial functions from birth. These tiny intracellular structures are also responsible for other critical body functions including DNA and RNA synthesis (our genetic material), heme synthesis (ability to make hemoglobin for proper oxygenation of the body) detoxification of ammonia in the urea cycle, cholesterol metabolism, hormone synthesis (estrogen and testosterone), neurotransmitter metabolism, and free radical treatment and detoxification. These patients born with genetic defects that lead to mitochondrial issues can have a variety of disorders, some of which are quite serious for health. The aging of our mitochondria is undergoing intensive study by many scientists interested in longevity. It has been postulated that healthy mitochondria lead to a longer lifespan filled with vitality and vigor. So long live our mighty mitochondria! Let’s protect our precious mitochondria and supply them with all the ingredients they need for proper function. You will feel the difference!
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