The mighty mite

I recently saw an amusing t-shirt with these words across the front: “On a cellular level I’m really quite busy.” It’s funny, of course, because it’s true – even the most sedentary and lethargic person is teeming with activity on a cellular level.

Unfortunately, as we grow older our cellular activity reduces considerably. The mitochondria that serve as cellular powerplants, processing the nutrients and oxygen that feed the cells, begin shutting down and often become impaired by toxins or disease. The results range from the typical signs of aging to chronic and debilitating diseases.

A new study shows just how troublesome this problem can be. But fortunately there are simple steps we can take to prevent the breakdown and loss of vitally important mitochondria.

 

 

Get on up 

Disorders sometimes associated with mitochondrial dysfunction include chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), and kidney ailments. To that list we can now add type 2 diabetes.

Knowing that the accumulation of fat in liver and muscle tissue is an accurate predictor of insulin resistance (a precursor of type 2 diabetes), a team of scientists at Yale University School of Medicine used non-invasive scans to examine the muscles and livers of 29 people. Subjects were made up of two groups: 13 were between the ages of 18 and 39, and 16 were between the ages of 61 to 84. All subjects were healthy and showed no signs of pre-diabetic conditions such as excessive body weight.

Results showed that the group of older subjects not only had a higher accumulation of fat in their liver and muscle tissue than the younger group, but also an average of 40 percent lower metabolic activity of the mitochondria. This is significant because one of the key jobs of mitochondria is to convert both fatty acids and glucose into energy.

The Yale researchers’ conclusion – that a lack of the mitochondria necessary to burn fat promotes a lowered sensitivity to insulin – leads to this practical advice: get up and exercise. Because studies have shown that regular physical activity stimulates and even increases the amount of mitochondria within your cells.

So the sedentary and lethargic may be quite active on a cellular level, but they can easily increase that much-needed activity and do their cellular health a big favor by taking a walk, doing some housework, or just getting up and stretching on a regular basis.

1 + 1 

In addition to physical activity, there are supplements that can help keep the mitochondria plentiful and lively.

For instance, many of the benefits of the amino acid acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) – such as the protection of brain nerve cells from degeneration – are attributed to its stimulating effects on the mitochondria. Unfortunately, some research has shown that ALC can increase oxidative stress. But a study from the University of California at Berkley that I told you about last year (“What Made These Rats Do the Macarena?” 3/12/02) found that combining ALC with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) not only eliminates the concerns about oxidative stress, but also magnifies ALC’s anti-aging effects.

The results of that study suggest that ALC and ALA supplements support the health of mitochondria, resulting in a boost to the metabolism that may even improve memory while fighting oxidative stress. In that earlier e-Alert I told you that the usual recommended dosage for ALC is 250 mg to 2 grams daily, and 100 to 600 mg of ALA. Both supplements are widely available through vitamin suppliers and health food stores.

We’ve got the beet 

In the July 2001 HSI Members Alert we told you about another supplement called Body Oxygen that also benefits mitochondria. This unique formulation combines beet juice (a proven mitochondria stimulator) with yeast cells that allow the nutrients in the juice to permeate the mitochondrial membrane. According to the research of Dr. Siegfried Wolz, the German physician who developed Body Oxygen, his formula can increase the amount of mitochondria by up to 25 percent.

This claim has been backed up by a European trial that showed Body Oxygen effectively increased cellular respiration (oxygenation) in a study of 20,000 cancer patients. The author of that study, Dr. Serge Jurasunas, believes that a daily dosage of Body Oxygen may help prevent and treat the disorders caused by decreased mitochondria. You can find more information about Body Oxygen at bodyoxygen.com.

Even though it seems that a combination of ALC, ALA, and Body Oxygen may go a long way toward improving the health of your mitochondria and overall cellular activity, I think the easiest and most economical step, suggested by the Yale research, is the best place to start. That is: with exercise. Perhaps the most common recurring message we see in study after study is the significant improvement to health that daily exercise can bring.


To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

Sources:
“Mitochondrial Dysfunction in the Elderly: Possible Role in Insulin Resistance” Science 2003 300: 1140-1142, sciencemag.org
“Cell Changes May Explain Diabetes Risk in Elderly” Reuters Health, 5/15/03, reutershealth.com
“Diabetes in the Elderly Linked to Fewer Cellular ‘Power Plants'” Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research News, press release, 5/16/03, hhmi.org