The effects of cell changes

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In yesterday’s e-Alert – “Cell Mate” – I told you about a Duke University study that demonstrates how cells ration iron, first making sure that the most essential cell functions get their share, and then depriving certain genes of iron if the iron supply is insufficient.

Today we’ll look at another cell function that impacts the aging process.

Mitochondria are cell organelles (literally; organs of the cell) that serve as powerplants, processing nutrients and oxygen that feed the cells. But toxins and diseases weaken mitochondria, often reducing cellular efficiency, as we grow older. The results range from the typical signs of aging to chronic and debilitating illnesses.

Fortunately there are simple steps we can take to prevent the breakdown and loss of vitally important mitochondria.

The diabetes connection

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.

It takes two

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 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. The usual recommended dosage for ALC is 250 mg to 2 grams daily, and 100 to 600 mg of ALA. Both supplements are available through vitamin suppliers and health food stores.

You’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

Talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional before beginning a regimen of Body Oxygen, ALC or ALA.


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and another thing

A note on grapefruit: Handle with care.

In the e-Alert “Dropping L Bees” (1/13/05), I told you how eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice before each meal may help manage insulin levels, which makes it easier to lose weight.

In response, a number of HSI members sent e-mails to remind me of one important detail about grapefruit consumption.

A member named Cheryl wrote, “Aren’t there interactions with grapefruit juice that impede absorption or alter the benefits of certain supplements & substances ingested at the same time? I would like to hear from you on these issues so I’m not adding benefit in one area & taking from another.”

And a member named Kathryn voices the same concern, along with some useful information: “Depending on the medication, including antibiotics and hormones, grapefruit may either increase the activity of the drug OR decrease the effectiveness. A simple way to get around this is to wait 30 minutes to an hour after eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice before you take your medications.”

Cheryl and Kathryn are both on the right track. Grapefruit contains phytochemicals that may impede an enzyme system in the small intestine. The result: When grapefruit or grapefruit juice is consumed at the same time that certain drugs are taken, the absorption of the drugs is increased dramatically, and sometimes dangerously. This is especially true of calcium channel blockers (taken for high blood pressure), immunosuppressant drugs, statin drugs for high cholesterol, and various medications for anxiety, insomnia and depression. Curiously, some antihistamine drugs are increased, while others are decreased.

Vitamins and other dietary supplements are a different story. When I asked HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., if grapefruit consumption might alter the absorption of nutrients in supplements, he said he didn’t think it would be a factor, and added, “Since the problem is the tendency to increase the action of the drugs it would be nice to have that effect with supplements. Alas, I fear it’s not to be.”

From what I’ve read, Kathryn’s suggestion is good advice: Try to put an hour or so between grapefruit consumption and drug intake. And to be on the safe side, if you’re taking any prescription drugs, check with your doctor before increasing your daily intake of grapefruit.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“Mitochondrial Dysfunction in the Elderly: Possible Role in Insulin Resistance” Science 2003 300: 1140-1142,

“Cell Changes May Explain Diabetes Risk in Elderly” Reuters Health, 5/15/03,

“Diabetes in the Elderly Linked to Fewer Cellular ‘Power Plants'” Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research News, press release, 5/16/03,