Mitochondria are organelles within cells, often referred to as ‘powerhouses’ (1).
They are the site at which cellular respiration takes place, the process whereby glucose is converted into ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate). ATP is a molecule essential for cellular energy metabolism: it provides the energy cells need in order to function.
Mitochondrial function relies on a delicate balance involving calcium transporters and the voltage-dependent anion channel.
As our cells age, mitochondrial dysfunction increases, leading to the accumulation of calcium in the cell matrix. This causes the mitochondria to release pro-apoptotic factors (apoptosis being programmed cell death) as well as free radicals which eventually reduces the mitochondria’s potential.
Indeed, over recent decades, scientists have been closely studying the effects of mitochondrial dysfunction on ageing. They largely concur that, like telomeres, mitochondria constitute key elements in the fight against the effects of ageing and thus require care and attention (2-4).
As we’ve seen, the main threat to mitochondria comes from free radicals. A diet high in trans fatty acids (the fats found in ultra-processed foods), free sugars, salt, alcohol, processed and red meat, etc. encourages free radical production and puts a severe strain on our mitochondria (5).
First of all then, it’s essential to eat a healthy, balanced diet containing plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, vitamins and ‘good’ fats.
It’s equally important to take regular exercise, as long as it’s moderate: strenuous exercise has been shown to promote free radical production whereas moderate activity stimulates antioxidants and the immune system.
The human body is actually a complex ecosystem: any kind of excess upsets the balance and causes the ageing process to speed up. So to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction and an acceleration in ageing, it’s vital to adopt a healthy, balanced and natural lifestyle.
Also called methoxatin, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is the cofactor of several redox enzymes. Combined with coenzyme Q10 in the mitochondria, PQQ/methoxatin also supports production of ATP.
A number of studies have also shown a correlation between a lack of PQQ and certain physiological abnormalities.
Most significantly, however, an American study found pyrroloquinoline quinone to have 30,000-50,000 times more antioxidant efficacy than vitamin C, and to be capable of neutralising thousands of free radicals before being reduced - the same free radicals that cause mitochondrial dysfunction (6-7).
A natural antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid is present in the mitochondria where it acts as a co-enzyme of pyruvate dehydrogenase and α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase, two enzymes that function as catalysts of carbohydrate and amino acid metabolism.
Alpha-lipoic acid thus plays a key role in mitochondrial function and APT production (8-9).
L-carnitine is produced in the liver, brain and kidneys from the amino acids lysine and methionine. Its role in the body is to help transport fatty acids to the mitochondria where they will be metabolised to ultimately provide ATP. Some studies suggest it leads to increased oxygen consumption in the mitochondria.
Given that concentrations of these substances in the body decline with age, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted an experiment in which they combined acetyl-L-carnitine, to stimulate activity of an enzyme that plays an important role in mitochondria, with alpha-lipoic acid, in particular for its antioxidant action. Their results showed an increase in memory and energy levels in the subjects examined (10).
Alongside a healthy, balanced diet; regular, moderate exercise; sufficient good quality sleep; and cutting down or giving up alcohol, smoking and added sugars, some people also choose to take supplements targeted at the mitochondria, with the aim of delaying the effects of ageing.
In this respect, it may help to take supplements containing pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine, all of which play a role in how mitochondria function.
You could also opt for a synergistic formulation in which all three of these molecules are combined to maximise their benefits (such as Mitochondrial Formula).
Does a dietary supplement past its expiry date necessarily have to be thrown away? Read on for the answers.
Telomerase, also known as the ‘immortality enzyme’, is known to hold back ageing. How does it work and what should you eat to stimulate its production?
Did you know it’s possible to significantly slow down ageing of the skin? Here are 6 practical (and natural) techniques for combatting skin ageing.
Many men are affected by erectile dysfunction, particularly after the age of 40. What causes such problems and can they be overcome using natural remedies?
Antioxidants have been very popular for several years because of their ability, real or perceived, to help fight against ageing. But which of them offers the greatest potency?
Ageing is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors: DNA shortening, oxidative stress, glycation... Here we take a look at the ageing process, its causes, and the ways in which we can slow it down.