Two weeks ago I talked about some supplements I discovered at the Health Optimisation Summit in London that are helping to improve your mitochondrial function. Today, I wanted to get back to talking a bit more about our mitochondria, aka how to get more energy, better sleep and improve chronic illness by improving your cellular health….
A quick reminder - what is mitochondrial function?
Just consider it a fancy name for saying that you’ll repair your cell damage and therefore are able to get back to a more youthful you - didn’t you have more energy and better sleep when you were 20? I sure did…
So yes, your mitochondria are key for proper mental and physical energy levels. Actually, you should have between 1000-2000 mitochondria per cell making the energy you need. If you don’t have enough mitochondria or they don’t function well, it negatively impacts your hormone balance and can cause chronic disease in the long run. But the first symptom of poor mitochondrial function is fatigue or lack of energy of course. Brain fog, digestive issues, and eventually, systemic or chronic illness are other typical symptoms.
I’ve been struggling with brain fog lately and it came to the point where I was consistently searching for words or names. I’ve always had a sharp mind and been a quick thinker so this has really been bothering me. I felt very embarrassed in front of my clients. Now my first thought was “it’s my blood sugar”. This is really common especially for women in peri menopause that the blood sugar gets out of balance and I know for sure that my blood sugar levels haven’t been good (and sometimes its not the diet but chronic inflammation that negatively impacts our blood sugar). But everything I learned during my last training especially about brain health, inflammation and neurodegenerative disease made me realize that I definitely had to improve my cellular function too to improve my brain health.
There’s a phospholipid that’s called phosphatidylcholine that has a great repairing effect on your mitochondria or improving cell function and signaling but also supports healthy bile flow for optimal fat digestion and detox function. I’ve been reintegrating this into my supplement regimen after my training and have noticed that my brain fog vastly improved.
You might have heard that women have a much higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia and that’s mainly linked to their hormone and blood sugar fluctuations before and overall lack of hormones after menopause. But this process of aging in the brain or accumulation of plaques actually starts much earlier and often subtle symptoms are already present in our 30s or early 40s.
As I mentioned above, the health of our cells heavily depends on our lifestyle and diet…. Now I consider my diet and lifestyle to be pretty clean and I have made many changes over the past years to eliminate pesticides, plastics, teflon cookware, non-natural body and cleaning products, stress, processed foods…
So why do I still have poor mitochondrial function? First of all, everyone is individual, some people are genetically more sensitive to these external stressors than others (migraineurs for sure know what I’m talking about…), but it doesn’t only depend on what you’re doing now, but what have you done (or rather not done) the past 20 years? This is your baseline and if your body is already dealing with a lot of things, your threshold for eliminating all the toxins and stressors that you are exposed to every day is not very high (and even if you try to limit them as much as possible, you’ll still get exposed to many toxins everywhere around you). In my case, I’ve had digestive issues and migraines every since early childhood that were never resolved. I got a lot of meds as well (that destroyed my microbiome for life as I now know). I had a real sweet tooth and ran on the blood sugar roller coaster for a very long time. No exercise until my 20s. I also grew up thinking that fat makes you fat and is bad for your health, lots of seconhand smoke exposure, partying, sleep deprivation, alcohol. I even was a vegetarian for a long time - if I had known back then how bad this all is for your hormones…. The real problems started though when I added more mental and physical stress to the balance: always very ambitious and in gogo mode and “balancing” the high work load with high intensity workouts - not a good idea, but I had to learn it the hard way!
Ok, other than the migraines, digestive issues and high meds as a child, I guess this is not shocking to anyone and probably resembles what most of you have done in your teenage years and up to your 30s.
So lets recap on what negatively impacted my cellular health:
Lack of sleep or sleep deprivation
High carb and sugar diet (= inflammation and burden on the liver) + drinking alcohol
Lack of protein and healthy fats in my diet
Lots of synthetic meds as a child
Not resolving digestive problems and therefore ongoing inflammation in my gut
Lack of physical exercise
Seconhand smoke exposure
What else did I do “wrong”?
Living in polluted cities
Having mercury fillings in my teeth
Taking birth control
Not eating organic - exposure to pesticides, …
Eating on the run
Using toxic bodycare, detergents and cleaning products (hello aluminium deodorant, perfumes, toothpaste with fluoride)
High mental and physical stress
Again, these are probably things that most people do, so why are they affecting us so much as we age and what can we do to mitigate them? I mean, there’s honestly no way to avoid all toxin exposure in today’s world… Even if you eat organic, you’ll have some pesticide exposure, if you avoid hormones from the meat you consume, you’ll still get it in the water you drink. If you opt for bottled water, you’re again increasing the amount of plastics you’re exposed to and that impact your hormones…. So there’s no way to completely avoid all these things and all of these negatively impact your cellular health. Your mitochondria become dysfunctional, resulting in a loss of energy and therefore a loss in healing ability, immunity, brain function, and so on.
It’s a comorbidity that comes with issues like autoimmune disease, chronic conditions like migraine, fibromyalgia, and mycotoxin illness, for example.
So the key is to 1) minimize your exposure as much as possible and 2) to detox on a regular basis to make sure that your body can get rid of the toxins that are starting to accumulate.
What else can you do to support mitochondrial function?
Diet and nutrition, sleep, exercise/movement, and detoxification are the main pillars for both increasing your army of mitochondria and promoting healthy mitochondria function. So it really comes down to the choices you make every day for your health and wellbeing.
Healthy fats are essential for healthy mitochondria
Your nutrition is always one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factors in maintaining your health. For mitochondria, healthy fat intake is especially important to maintain the mitochondrial membrane, which is primarily composed of phospholipids, the main one being phosphatidylcholine that I mentioned above. Your body also requires fatty acids we find in food sources like raw nuts and seeds, avocado, and fatty fish to complete the cell membrane.
The most important thing to be aware of with your healthy fat consumption is to avoid oxidized fats. The oxidation turns healthy oils toxic for your body. The most common examples are industrial seed oils like canola, soy, cottonseed, and even sunflower oil and other nut oils used in processed foods and sold as cooking oil. Don’t be fooled by false marketing: these superheated, rancid oils are inflammatory and destructive to your mitochondria. Check out more details in my previous article here.
Move your body every day!
Research shows that exercise can result in an increase in mitochondria by up to 40%!
What’s important to consider with exercise is that it can just as well be another stressor on your body and mitochondria: So you need to be able to recognize when it’s supportive, and when it’s acting as just another stressor on your body. Doing difficult workouts every day without rest in between is just as damaging to your mitochondria as any other toxin. But done properly and with plenty of rest, strengthening your muscles with weight training can help increase mitochondria production and efficiency over time.
Depending on your fitness level, make sure you move your body daily and adapt it to your capacity: going for a walk or brisk walk, dancing, biking or yoga can be a great way to start out and slowly build up.
Reduce your toxic load!
It’s important to reduce your toxic exposure as much as possible. Clear your home of toxic cleaning products, reevaluate your makeup and skincare products, and invest in a good air purifier for your living space and bedrooms. It’s impossible to avoid all toxins, but these are good first steps to reducing your toxic load.
Supporting your liver and gut health is also key for detoxifying from the inside out. Go back to my previous article on how to reduce toxins.
Contact me if you have any questions or would like help with improving your cellular health!