How To Fully Optimize Your Mitochondrial Health: 7 Science-Backed Steps
By Jay Campbell
June 17th, 2021
Fully optimized health involves EVERY single facet of your body – it’s so much more than how much you can lift or how you look in the mirror.
Being of supreme health requires the conscious awareness of your physical meat suit.
From your organs and all the way down to your cells, a human is only as optimized as their weakest link.
And for many people, that weakest link just to happens to be the mitochondria.
So what’s the true significance of this cellular organ in regard to our overall health?
And how can we ensure our mitochondrial health is operating at peak capacity?
This article will answer all of those questions using a combination of groundbreaking research and rules your grandmother has repeated an infinite number of times.
Why Is Mitochondrial Health Important?
If you’ve ever experienced a lack of physical and/or mental energy during the day, chances are your mitochondria aren’t working properly:
“…the mitochondria are the main source of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy-rich compound that drives fundamental cell functions.
These functions include force generation (for example, in muscle contraction and cell division), the biosynthesis, folding and degradation of proteins, and the generation and maintenance of membrane potentials.
ATP is produced on a massive scale in the human body, amounting to 50 kg per day in a healthy adult, but considerably more in a long-distance runner”
“…mitochondria have numerous other essential functions, including the production of NADH and GTP in the citric acid cycle, the biosynthesis of amino acids, heme groups and iron-sulfur clusters or the synthesis of phospholipids for membrane biogenesis.
They also act in calcium signaling, stress responses and generally as cellular signaling hubs”
The video below is a great 2-minute summary of how the mitochondria in your body produce the energy you need and use on a 24/7 basis:
And if you want to go deeper into how much ATP your body produces in a single day, it’s quite a lot:
“Cells contain from 1000 to 2500 mitochondria. The average cell uses 10 billion ATP per day, which translates to the typical adult needing ~3.0 × 1025 ATP.
To accomplish this prodigious feat, each ATP needs to be recycled from ADP [adenosine diphosphate] 1000 times per day.
Because the body cannot store ATP, the mitochondria must function consistently all the time”
But when it comes to poorly functioning mitochondria, fatigue is the least of your worries.
There continues to be an increasing amount of evidence directly connecting mitochondrial dysfunction to various diseases:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Various forms of cancer and tumor development
- Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
Along with a LONG list of other chronic conditions:
“…autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and type 1 diabetes; neurobehavioral and psychiatric diseases, such as autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar and mood disorders; gastrointestinal disorders; fatiguing illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and Gulf War illnesses; musculoskeletal diseases, such as fibromyalgia and skeletal muscle hypertrophy/atrophy… and chronic infections”
And in some cases, there are specific mitochondrial diseases caused by your genetic makeup.
Long story short: Your mitochondrial health is directly linked to accelerated aging and your overall health as a whole.
Given how important this cellular organ is, it’s in your best interest to optimize the mitochondria responsible for helping you function as a human being.
Strategies For Optimizing Mitochondria Health
Believe it or not, the strategies I’m going to share with you for improving mitochondrial health are surprisingly straightforward.
You don’t need exotic supplements, expensive machines, or anything that’s significantly time-consuming.
As a matter of fact, most of you are probably doing these things anyway:
While the above diagram is a bit of an over-exaggeration, it drives home the point of your mitochondria being one of the most “easily” influenced biological systems by the way you CHOOSE to live your life.
Of course, as many experts note, there are multiple facets to restoring mitochondrial health:
“Increase the number of mitochondria
Increase the efficiency of mitochondria
Protect your cells and mitochondria from oxidative stress
Clear out old, sluggish mitochondria
Provide your mitochondria with the specific nutrients they need”
Without further ado, let’s get into the strategies!
Step #1: Eat and Drink Like a Grown-Up Adult
You may hate to hear this, but your diet plays a major role in your mitochondrial health.
This means eating tons of processed foods, refined grains, sugar, fats high in Omega-6 content, and other obviously unhealthy foods should worry you:
“HFD [high fat diet]- and HFD plus fructose-fed mice have decreased CTP1a activity, the rate-limiting enzyme of fatty acid oxidation, whereas knockdown of fructose metabolism increases CPT1a and its acylcarnitine products. Furthermore, fructose-supplemented HFD leads to increased acetylation of ACADL and CPT1a, which is associated with decreased fat metabolism.
In summary, dietary fructose, but not glucose, supplementation of HFD impairs mitochondrial size, function, and protein acetylation, resulting in decreased fatty acid oxidation and development of metabolic dysregulation”
Instead, what you should choose to opt for are foods with essential nutrients and vitamins for proper mitochondrial functioning (Source):
So what foods should you go for? Here is a short list to get you started:
- Vegetables: Spinach (leafy greens in general), carrots, tomatoes, peppers, peas
- Fruits: Berries, cherries, apples, pears, grapes, pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple
- Protein: Lean grass-fed cuts of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, etc.), fish with near-zero levels of mercury, free-range eggs, beans
- Fats: Coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, almonds, sunflower seeds,
- Complex carbohydrates: Sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal
As for drinks, I think the answer should be obvious:
- Green/black tea
- Water, specifically deuterium-depleted water
Moreover, consider the TYPE of diet you are following!
Research shows the best diet for mitochondria health revolves around caloric restriction and intermittent fasting:
“Specifically, TCF [time controlled fasting] was able to prevent the decline of adipose triglyceride lipase (Atgl), maintain efficient mitochondrial respiration in SkM [skeletal muscle] as well as improve blood glucose and lipid profile.
Atgl was found to be the mediator of such preventive effects as its downregulation or up-regulation in C2C12 myotubes triggers mitochondrial alteration or protects against the deleterious effects of high fat levels respectively.
In conclusion, TCF could represent an effective strategy to limit mitochondrial impairment and metabolic inflexibility that are typically induced by modern western diets or during aging.”
And whatever plan you choose, make sure you’re following the fundamental principle of metabolic flexibility!
Step #2: Consistently Engage in Intense Exercise
There’s the old saying that working out is the secret to more energy.
Which means the best way to stay in motion is to start moving: If you don’t feel like going to the gym yet push yourself to go anyways, you actually end up feeling more energetic after a great workout.
And it’s no surprise why this happens, as the process of escaping fatigue takes place on a cellular level:
“a single session of high-intensity exercise elevates cytosolic concentrations of several metabolites, which initiates a cascade of signaling events in numerous pathways, leading to the upregulated expression of genes encoding proteins for mitochondrial biogenesis, fatty acid oxidation, the Krebs cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation”
“high-intensity exercise transiently upregulates mitochondrial protein synthesis (mitoPS). Repeated mitoPS stimulation through training, coupled with increases in fusion and fission, leads to expansion and remodeling of the mitochondrial reticulum, evident through changes in mitochondrial content, function, and cristae density”
As it turns out, even the TYPE of exercise you do can make a significant difference in mitochondrial biogenesis (the synthesis of new mitochondria) and function:
“The study enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups — “young” volunteers who were 18-30 years old and “older” volunteers who were 65-80 years old — into three different exercise programs: one where the volunteers did high-intensity interval biking, one where the volunteers did strength training with weights, and one that combined strength training and interval training.”
“They found that while strength training was effective at building muscle mass, high-intensity interval training yielded the biggest benefits at the cellular level. The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, and the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69% increase.”
Scientists have finally caught up with what “broscientists” and bodybuilders have been saying for ages:
I also recommend some form of walking every day, along with mobility/stretching to keep your body both strong and mobile.
There’s no point in being a bodybuilder who gasps for air after climbing a flight of stairs, nor a cardio bunny who struggles to pick up light weight.
Step #3: Get 7-8 Hours of Deep, Uninterrupted Sleep Every Night
For all of the overworked and high-achieving people reading this article, sleep deprivation is the fastest path towards poor productivity:
“A recent study shows that sleep loss causes a significant decrease in some cognitive functions including creativity, divergent thinking, decision making, short-term and working memory, and execution of tasks, even if the employee regains alertness with the use of stimulant measures… These result in a lot of work errors which may include errors of commission and omission which can affect the sustainability and profitability of a company in the long run.”
“The study revealed that after 10 hours of wakefulness, each additional hour was equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.004%, indicating that an individual who has gone an extended period without sleeping would develop the same impaired hand-eye coordination as an individual who is intoxicated with alcohol to the legal limit.”
All of the negative effects described in the quote above can be tied to malfunctioning mitochondria:
“Both nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA mutations were associated with abnormal sleep patterns. Most subjects who underwent polysomnography had central sleep apnea, and only 5 patients had obstructive sleep apnea.
Twenty-four patients showed decreased ventilatory drive in response to hypoxia and/or hypercapnia that was not considered due to weakness of the intrinsic muscles of respiration.”
“…The probable underlying mechanism is cellular energy failure causing both central neurological and peripheral neuromuscular degenerative changes that commonly present as central sleep apnea and poor ventilatory response to hypercapnia”
“Exposure of flies to constant light was able to alter sleep patterns, causing locomotor deficits, increasing ROS production and lipid peroxidation, affecting mitochondrial activity, antioxidant defense enzymes and caspase activity.
HRR analysis showed that sleep deprivation affected mitochondrial bioenergetics capacity, decreasing respiration at oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and electron transport system (ETS).
In addition, the expression of genes involved in the response to oxidative stress and apoptosis were increased.”
I think the point is quite clear: No matter how busy you think you are, you can always make time in your schedule to get the rest you need.
Things such as setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, sleeping in a zero-light environment, abstaining from caffeine, and all the other sleep hygiene habits YOU ALREADY KNOW you need to be doing… start doing them.
If you truly want to sleep deeper than ever before, check out Eight Sleep’s Pod Pro mattress.
Between being able to customize the mattress’s temperature and wake up peacefully without an alarm, it also tracks every biomarker necessary for fully optimized sleep.
Step #4: Expose Yourself to Sunlight Every Day
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but staying inside all day because of the ongoing pandemic isn’t doing your body any favors.
As a matter of fact, it’s daily exposure to sunlight that helps your mitochondria function properly:
“UV (specifically UVB) increases NRF2 (an antioxidant gene), which enhances the body’s natural antioxidant process and has shown to protect against cancer
NRF2 also increases mitochondrial function and signaling (communication).
Infrared (IR) from the sun can increase mitochondrial function.
Like chloroplasts (the green parts of plants), mitochondria have the ability to photosynthesize (convert light into energy)
This overall increases ATP (energy from mitochondria that’s readily available to the body) and cellular respiration (via hormesis), thus giving you, your body, and your cells more energy.”
Not to mention increased Vitamin D production is essential for mitochondrial health:
“The silencing of the [Vitamin D receptor, VDF] in different healthy, non-transformed, and cancer cells initially decreased cell growth and modulated the cell cycle.
We demonstrated that, in silenced cells, the increased respiratory activity was associated with elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) production.
In the long run, the absence of the receptor caused impairment of mitochondrial integrity and, finally, cell death.
Our data reveal that VDR plays a central role in protecting cells from excessive respiration and production of ROS that leads to cell damage. Because we confirmed our observations in different models of both normal and cancer cells, we conclude that VDR is essential for the health of human tissues.”
You don’t need much more guidance from me on this point: 20-30 minutes per day, make a conscious effort to get some fresh air and expose your body directly to sunlight.
Step #5: Lower Your Body’s Level of Systemic Inflammation
I’ve spoken about the topic of chronic inflammation numerous times on my website, my books, and my podcasts.
But with mitochondria, new research suggests inflammation converts these cellular organs from energy producers to toxin producers:
“During inflammation, macrophages were found to halt mitochondria’s production of energy and switch them to producing toxic compounds that further amplify inflammation.
This change in enzyme activity specifically increases production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species, high levels of which can damage cell structures.
Succinate dehydrogenase is involved in the process of energy generation in mitochondria, but it also plays a role in tumor suppression, making it an enzyme of interest to medical researchers.”
Some scientists have postulated that the removal of damaged mitochondria could be the key to treating chronic inflammatory disease.
“…oxidative stresses and damages to the mitochondria may lead to progressive dysfunctional and dysregulated mitochondrial machinery. Impaired mitochondrial function may itself lead to unchecked inflammatory response through excessive mtDNA, inflammasomes activation and other pro-inflammatory immune signaling engagements.
Therefore, the mitochondria exert many effects on the inflammatory signaling, and the inflammatory proteins themselves can modulate mitochondrial function, which can feed into potentially damaging inflammatory cycle that result in many of the chronic diseases”
I have a much better idea: Stop the systemic inflammation from taking over your body and you won’t have to worry about mitochondria dysregulation.
While following all of the strategies in this article will lower inflammation, I also recommend the following two practices…
First, get your blood work done regularly and understand your body’s inflammatory markers.
Second, practice grounding on a daily basis to get connected with nature.
The key to lowering inflammation is proactively working to keep it at an appropriate level.
Step #6: Minimize (If Not Avoid) Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins
One of my newest efforts in the health space involves warning people about the dangers of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
In case you don’t know what they are, here’s a brief overview:
“EDCs are defined by The Endocrine Society as “An exogenous, (non-natural) chemical, or a mixture of chemicals that interferes with any aspect of hormone action”.
EDCs may act as hormone system agonists or antagonists (or both). EDCs can not only decrease testosterone production but also interfere with its signal transduction (i.e. androgen receptor binding, transcription, and translation).
Significant increases in environmental pollutants, contaminants, and particulates in the air produced by industrial factories, smog, emissions from cars, and more are bombarding our biological systems and lowering testosterone levels on a global scale. EDCs also come from pesticides, herbicides, and pharmaceutical agents like cosmetics, sunscreens, & plastics.”
“Sadly, EDC disruption can take place in utero and affect male hormonal development for the rest of their lives. Men (and women) are being exposed to various hormone-suppressing phytoestrogens that the body is not designed to handle.”
One of them — which you have likely heard of before — is Bisphenol A (BPA), which lowers mitochondrial biogenesis:
“We studied the levels of key regulatory proteins of mitochondrial import pathways and mitochondrial biogenesis after BPA exposure in the rat hippocampus. BPA caused a significant reduction in the levels of mitochondrial biogenesis proteins (PGC1α, and TFAM) and mitochondrial import protein (GFER).”
“BPA exposure resulted in damaged mitochondria with distorted cristae in neurons and caused a significant reduction in GFER localization inside IMS as depicted by immunogold electron microscopy.”
To make matters worse, there’s even a sub-class of EDCs known as metabolism-disrupting chemicals (MDCs) which have been shown to directly affect mitochondria function and synthesis in the body:
“…metabolism-disrupting chemical (MDC), a subclass of EDCs that disturbs energy homeostasis, cause mitochondrial dysfunction, thus contributing to the establishment of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
We conclude that MDC-induced mitochondrial dysfunction, which is mainly characterized by perturbations in mitochondrial bioenergetics, biogenesis and dynamics, excessive reactive oxygen species production and activation of the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis, seems to be a relevant mechanism linking MDCs to type 2 diabetes development.”
I highly recommend reading the entire study quoted above as it goes to show the devastating impacts environmental toxins can have on your body’s most important cellular organ.
Anybody who is serious about minimizing EDC exposure owes it to themselves to read Dr. Anthony Jay’s groundbreaking book “Estrogeneration” and follow his advice to the letter.
Step #7: Use Targeted Supplementation & Therapeutic Peptides For an Extra Boost
Whether you are in poor health or looking for a Level 10 lifestyle, you may find that natural means of restoring mitochondrial health are not enough to get you the results you want.
I haven’t personally gone deep down this route, so here are some brief suggestions to help you get started:
- Metformin (which contrary to what most people believe, IMPROVES mitochondrial respiratory function)
- Using mitochondrial-derived peptides such as MOTS-C and Humanin
- Mitoburn, the branded version of the amino acid L-Baiba
If you want to go deeper into the hole of choosing the right supplements for better mitochondrial health, SelfHacked and Optimal Living Dynamics have compiled a long list of products worth looking into.
CONCLUSION: Improving Mitochondrial Health Is Plain Common Sense
I hope you realize the importance of maintaining fully optimized mitochondria… but I also hope you see just how easy and simple it can be.
If you’re already leading an active lifestyle, there’s a good chance you’re doing what’s necessary to keep your cellular health in peak condition.
And in that case, you’ll want to double down on your lifestyle and add a few strategies to achieve a higher level of all-day energy.
But if you’re not doing anything on this list, it’s NEVER too late to get started.
Your time on this planet is too valuable to spend it exhausted, defeated, and complacent!