What Are Mitochondria?
You probably remember from primary school that “mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell”. We learn in school that mitochondria are a part of the cell, called organelles. But what are mitochondria exactly and how are they important to you?
In the last years, more and more studies reached the conclusion that at the origin (millions of years ago) mitochondria were individual bacterial cells that somehow got to enter in and form a symbiotic relationship with organisms that produces methane (methanogenic archaea). The mitochondria fed on the carbon products of the host cell and in turn provided energy. This offered the host cell a significant advantage, leading to a massive spread of the eukaryotes. Research shows that mitochondria can also communicate with external bacteria and even reach a symbiotic relationship with them. This has huge importance, as the human body hosts a significant number of bacteria, for example, the gut microbiome. Together, mitochondria and the gut microbiome play an important role in regulating the host’s metabolism and longevity1)Bing Han, Chih‐Chun Janet Lin, Guo Hu, Meng C. Wang – ‘Inside Out’– a dialogue between mitochondria and bacteria.
The strongest argument for this is that mitochondria have their own DNA (called mtDNA), separate from the DNA found in the nucleus of the cell and are surrounded by a double membrane. They reproduce like bacteria, replicating their mtDNA, and thus making it much less prone to changes in its structure. This provides important clues to researchers when studying the evolution of certain species, indicating how closely related they are 2)The Evolution of the Cell.
Mitochondria are very active organelles, presenting both fusion and fission processes. They use fusion to diminish the effects of damaged individuals, and fission to selectively discard damaged individuals. They also communicate with each other, forming a mitochondrial network, kept in balance by the two processes. When we age, the mitochondrial network tends to get fragmented, and the balance seems to incline towards fission, most likely due to an increase in damage in the individuals. In order to compensate for a decrease in both quality and quantity, they tend to form superfused and swollen mitochondria 3)Bing Han, Chih‐Chun Janet Lin, Guo Hu, Meng C. Wang – ‘Inside Out’– a dialogue between mitochondria and bacteria.
Mitochondria is the power source of the cell. This is why cells that require more energy present more mitochondria than cells with lower power requirements. For example, is you stimulate a muscle repeatedly, the mitochondria in the muscle’s cells will start multiplying in order to keep up with the energy demand. This is why they are more present in brain, heart, muscles and lung cells.
What is Mitochondrial Disease?
When mitochondria start failing, the energy production in cells declines, and cells become damaged or they die. Body symptoms are varied, and cand include seizures, strokes, inability to walk, acute development delays, problems with food digestion, vision and/or hearing loss or organ failure. This is why a mitochondrial disease is very difficult to diagnose. There are many forms of mitochondrial disease, generated by defects in the mtDNA or event the host cell’s DNA.
Physicians specialized in metabolic diseases have found that every human being is biochemically different, meaning that different individuals will respond in different ways to the same treatment, even if they have the same disease. For this reason, treatment needs to be individualized for each patient. For now, there is no cure for mitochondrial disease, but many clinical trials are in progress in order to identify therapies. Current treatments can help reduce symptoms, delay or even stop the progression of the disease 4)https://www.mitoaction.org/mitochondrial-disease/faq/.
For treatment, usually, a mix of exercise (endurance or resistance) and supplements and vitamins is used. Among the most used vitamins and supplements used are: coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, arginine, folic acid, L-carnitine, vitamin C.
How Can You Stimulate Your Mitochondria
Now that you know how important mitochondria is for you, you understand how important is to take good care of them! In order to do this, try to stop eating sugar, grain products, and processed foods. Eat healthy fats, exercise, sleep well, get sunlight, try cold showers. You can read all about these in this post.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, transforming sugars, fats, and proteins into forms of chemical energy that the body can use. They have other very important roles though, like to break down waste products from the cells, making them less harmful or to help decide what cells need to die (process called apoptosis).
Mitochondria are hugely important to our cells’ everyday functions, and their malfunction brings a lot of problems for our organisms.
|↑1, ↑3||Bing Han, Chih‐Chun Janet Lin, Guo Hu, Meng C. Wang – ‘Inside Out’– a dialogue between mitochondria and bacteria|
|↑2||The Evolution of the Cell|