Mitochondria are specialized structures found in cells. They participate in many cellular processes, but their most important function is to extract the energy that is stored in the chemical bonds of nutrients (in the form of electrically charged particles called electrons) and transform it into a form of energy that cells can use to power their activity.
Here’s 10 Ways You Can Boost Mitochondria
1. Calorie restriction
Reducing calorie intake (through fasting diets, for example) is the most successful approach to enhance longevity. This success can be attributed, at least partially, to an increase in mitochondrial bioenergetic efficiency.
Exercise requires a great deal of energy to power our muscles. That puts a burden on muscle mitochondria, which signal that energetic demand to the rest of the cell. Muscle cells respond by producing more mitochondria and more mitochondrial enzymes. This increases the respiratory capacity of muscles, i.e., their ability to produce ATP from nutrients to power muscle contraction.
It is an adaptation of our muscle cells to exercise and one of the reasons why exercise performance improves with training. Exercise is also one of the best ways to improve mitochondrial biogenesis and function in aging muscle, helping to delay the age-related decline in mitochondrial activity and muscle health.
3. Mitochondrial nutrients
There are many nutrients that can help mitochondria do their work and maintain their fitness. Mitochondrial nutrients provide substrates and cofactors that support and/or stimulate mitochondrial enzyme activity; they enhance cellular antioxidant defenses; they scavenge free radicals and protect mitochondria from oxidation; and they protect and repair mitochondrial membranes.
Mitochondrial nutrients include B vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and other nutrients such as L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, pyrroloquinoline quinone and creatine, for example. They can be taken as supplements or they can be found in natural unprocessed foods: fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood, and meat.
The human brain requires a lot of energy, and because of its high metabolic rate, the brain accumulates a lot of metabolic waste. During sleep, the brain gets rid of products that can be toxic to mitochondria.
Because neuronal mitochondria power every brain function, it is very important to avoid this accumulation of toxic waste. Poor sleep damages mitochondria, but a good night’s sleep helps the brain keep mitochondria healthy.
5. Relaxation techniques
Psychological stress influences physical health and mitochondria have a key role in this influence. Stress can alter mitochondrial structure and function through stress hormones and other stress signals that are sensed by mitochondria.
Therefore, practices that help manage stress — meditation, yoga, tai chi or breathing exercises, for example — may help prevent the effects of stress. In fact, regular practice of relaxation techniques has been shown to upregulate genes that are linked to healthy mitochondrial function.
Without forgetting that excessive unprotected sun bathing can be very harmful, it’s important to remember that the right amount of sun is fundamental for our health. A well-known effect of sunlight is the production of vitamin D in our skin.
It turns out that vitamin D is necessary for mitochondrial activity and that vitamin D supplementation in vitamin D deficient adults improves mitochondrial oxidative capacity in muscles. Furthermore, animal studies have shown that vitamin D promotes mitochondrial biogenesis and increases the oxidative capacity of mitochondria in muscles and brown fat.
7. Red/near-infrared light therapy
Red and near-infrared light can penetrate the skin and act on mitochondria through stimulation of a molecule called cytochrome C oxidase. This molecule is part of the mitochondrial electron transport chain that produces ATP. Red and near-infrared light enhance the efficiency of the mitochondrial electron transport chain and energy production.
By doing so, red/near-infrared light therapy also improves cellular signaling by ROS and triggers cellular changes that lead to beneficial cellular responses, including enhanced antioxidant defenses and improved cellular functioning. A number of benefits have been described for red/near-infrared light therapy, including, for example, accelerated wound healing and increased capacity to decrease muscle damage and improve muscle recovery following exercise.
8. Cold exposure
When we’re cold, two types of tissues respond immediately by generating extra-heat. One is skeletal muscle, which produces heat through shivering. The other is brown adipose tissue (BAT, or brown fat), responsible for non-shivering heat production.
In both skeletal muscle and brown fat, cold stimulates an increase in mitochondrial activity and mitochondrial biogenesis. Therefore, cold exposure in the form of cold showers or cryotherapy can boost mitochondria to keep us warm.
9. Heat exposure
Heat can also trigger beneficial biological responses. Heat acts as a mild stress signal and triggers cell responses that promote adaptation.
These effects have been shown in skeletal muscle and in cardiac muscle, for example. This stands in line with studies showing that routine sauna bathing can improve endurance performance and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, for example.
10. Supporting NAD+
NAD+ (from nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a molecule derived from vitamin B3 found in every single cell in our body. NAD+ has a key role in mitochondrial function: It is the main responsible for the delivery of the electrons that are extracted from food to the electron transport chain for ATP production. NAD+ is therefore as important for cells as ATP itself. Consequently, NAD+ is essential for the maintenance of health.
NAD levels decrease naturally in many tissues as we age. This decrease may also contribute to the aging process. However, we can boost NAD+ levels by supplying cells with nutrients that can help them optimize NAD+ metabolism. Doing so may counterbalance the age-related decrease in NAD+ and help support mitochondrial function, protect against age-related diseases, and support longevity.