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How to optimise mitochondria and Energy Production 

How to optimise mitochondria and Energy Production 

How to optimise mitochondria and Energy Production 

Recent Australian studies state that about 1 in 200 people will carry a mitochondrial genetic defect – that equates to nearly 120,000 Australians.(1)  Not all these people will develop illness but may develop mild symptoms that go undetected throughout their lifetime.  Many other people without a genetic predisposition can also have mitochondria dysfunction through biochemical imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, poor gut health, environmental factors and the like.

There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that mitochondrial dysfunction is quite common and associated with many diseases. As we become more aware of how important it is for our mitochondria to function well, we can use strategies to optimise our mitochondria with a number of tools and lifestyle changes.

What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are the “energy factory” of our body. Several thousand mitochondria are in nearly every cell in the body. Their job is to process oxygen and convert substances from the foods we eat into energy. Mitochondria produce 90% of the energy our body needs to function. (2)

They generate the majority of our adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the cell, but are also involved in other tasks. In addition to their role in energy production, mitochondria are also involved in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), regulation of amino acids, metabolites, and enzyme co-factors, neurotransmitter synthesis, insulin secretion, and pyrimidine and lipid production.(3)They are also responsible for the signalling between cells and cell death, a process known as apoptosis.

Mitochondria are present in nearly all types of human cells. Although most of our DNA is kept in the nucleus of each cell, mitochondria have their own set of DNA. Interestingly, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is more similar to bacterial DNA. The mtDNA holds the instructions for a number of proteins and other cellular support equipment across 37 genes. (4)

What causes mitochondria dysfunction?

A common factor among mitochondrial diseases is that the mitochondria are unable to completely burn food and oxygen to generate energy, which is essential for normal cell function. When the mitochondria are not working properly, cells begin to die until eventually whole organ systems fail and the person’s life itself is at stake.


Mitochondrial disease can be classed as primary or secondary. It’s often inherited, and the primary type is caused by a ‘hiccup’ in the genes used to make the mitochondria. It is usually carried down only on the mother’s side, but it may have required both parents for it to be passed on, or it may be mutated for the first time.


The secondary type can be the result of environmental factors and is always related to another illness, an illness that has caused the mitochondria to malfunction despite the normal formation of mitochondria initially. (5)


At a molecular level, a reduction in mitochondrial function occurs as a result of the following changes: 

  • loss of maintenance of the electrical and chemical transmembrane potential of the inner mitochondrial membrane
  • alterations in the function of the electron transport chain
  • a reduction in the transport of critical metabolites into mitochondria. 


In turn, these changes result in a reduced efficiency of oxidative phosphorylation and a reduction in production of adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP). Several components of this system require routine replacement, and this need can be facilitated with natural supplements. (6)


Symptoms of primary mitochondria dysfunction


How do you know if you have mitochondrial dysfunction? Symptoms vary, but may include the below:


  • poor growth
  • developmental delays 
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness, loss of muscle or muscle quiver
  • problems with coordination
  • nervous system dysfunction
  • fatigue or inability to exercise
  • weak eye muscles or rapid involuntary movement
  • heart block
  • seizures
  • severe unintentional weight loss

Diseases caused or aggravated by mitochondrial dysfunction

Many conditions can lead to secondary mitochondrial dysfunction and affect other diseases, including:

  • Early aging – Mitochondrial dysfunction increases as age progresses due to accumulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations and increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production that causes oxidative damage to cellular macromolecules.
  • Multiple sclerosis – Research has demonstrated mitochondrial respiratory chain deficiency in MS, as well as abnormalities in mitochondrial transport. 
  • Alzheimer’s disease – Extensive literature exists supporting a role for mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative damage in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Autism – Impaired mitochondrial function may influence processes highly dependent on energy, such as neurodevelopment, and contribute to autism.
  • Cancer – DNA damage – Identified within cells – is an early marker of cancer. Mutated mtDNA cells are a telling sign of malignant tumours and their growth. Above all, cancer is a cellular disease at its core, so the health of our mitochondria plays a role in both prevention and therapeutic treatment.
  • Cardiovascular disease – The mitochondria don’t receive enough oxygen as early onset heart failure compromises the availability of oxygen and triggers a stress signal to the body to tell it so. Delivering antioxidants to the cells can potentially lessen dysfunction and prevent heart failure.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome – Poor mitochondria function could be to blame. Poor nutrition, prolonged use of certain medications, antibiotic use, and other factors can diminish ATP production and leave our cells without the energy they need to function at peak performance.
  • Dementia – There is a higher risk of dementia as mitochondrial dysfunction can impact the brain.
  • Diabetes – Various genetic and environmental factors can cause mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a culprit defect that leads to type 2 diabetes by affecting βcell dysfunction and insulin resistance. (7)
  • Huntington’s disease – Mitochondrial dysfunction impacts the neurodegeneration that occurs in Huntington’s disease.
  • Migraine headache – Any mitochondrial impairment in the brain likely leads to a deficit in mitochondrial energy, which in turn can be a migraine trigger.
  • Parkinson’s disease – Overwhelming evidence indicates that mitochondrial dysfunction is a central factor in PD pathophysiology.

How to optimise your mitochondria

  1. Protect the body from oxidative stress
    Provide nutrients that protect the mitochondria from oxidative stress (cellular damage) to limit oxygen and high-energy electron leakage and work as an effective anti-aging strategy. 

Oxidative stress can be partly from external influences (pollution, stress, chemicals in the environment and alcohol) but also cellular damage can occur as part of the natural process of energy production. Therefore, the mitochondria require a diet rich in antioxidants – think colourful vegetables, some fruit, herbs and spices and other healthy foods that supply essential nutrients. (8)


  • Clean up your diet

Eating clean is essential to remove unnecessary toxins, support your gut health and immune system.

Choose foods with a low Glycaemic Index. Low GI foods are digested and absorbed slowly by the body, causing a lower and slower rise in blood glucose levels and therefore usually insulin levels. This helps to maintain the feeling of fullness for longer.


Some people with neurological or metabolic disorders may benefit from a ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrate and contains a moderate amount of protein. Reducing the intake of carbohydrates forces the body to use fat for energy, in a process called ketosis.

  1. Supplement with effective nutrients
    Utilise nutrients that facilitate mitochondrial ATP production. Clinical trials have shown the effectiveness of using supplements, such as l-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid (α-lipoic acid [1,2-dithiolane-3-pentanoic acid]), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10 [ubiquinone]), reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), membrane phospholipids, and other supplements. Combinations of these supplements can reduce significantly the fatigue and other symptoms associated with chronic disease and can naturally restore mitochondrial function, even in people with long-term with fatigue. (9)
  2. Build muscle mass
    Even those with mitochondrial damage, such as that found in Parkinson’s disease, can increase ATP production through strength training. (10) It’s also a good idea to eat plenty of protein food such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and eggs to support amino acids like glutathione that protect the mitochondria.
  3. Supplement with magnesium
    Many of us are low in magnesium but it is essential for the production of energy. Dark green vegetables, meat and nuts are rich sources of magnesium. 
  4. Keep up with your vitamins
    Vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron and selenium are also required nutrients. These can all be found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans/lentils, dairy products, fish and meat.
  5. Eat healthy fats
    Healthy fats are ‘fuel’ for mitochondria. You can find them in oily fish, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil and flaxseed oil. Healthy fats also protect the mitochondria by providing anti-inflammatory support.
  6. Limit your sugar intake
    Sugar impairs, rather than promotes, the production of cellular energy. Avoid refined and processed sugar. Try to limit your fruit intake or stick to two portions per day, choosing ‘whole’ fruit rather than juices and avoid products with added fructose syrups. 

How we can help

At Advanced Functional Medicine, our trained practitioners can help you understand if you have mitochondrial dysfunction with thorough testing. Once the root cause is identified, we can work with you to improve the function of your mitochondria and return balance o your biochemistry.

We can achieve this by reducing oxidative stress and addressing your nutrient needs with customised supplementing and tailored diet plans. With essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids that support the body’s processes central to energy production, we can help ensure you receive the vital micronutrients you required to live well.

Call us now to find out more or fill in the form below.

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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