Understanding our immune system and mitochondria...
Welcome to GreenNote Fitness Reflections.
Each month I share with you what I’m doing for longevity - to live my life fully with joy while serving others. We will deep-dive into optimizing brain function and mitochondrial health while maintaining strength and balance of body, mind, and spirit.
In our last newsletter, we took a look at what mitochondria is, why it's so important to the human body, and what we can do to improve it. A key point we covered was this: if you want a strong body and mind and have great energy, then we need to optimize the function of mitochondria.
Here's a little recap
Mitochondria are well-known powerhouses of the cell and are found within almost all living cells in varying numbers. They are small organelles floating freely through the cell that act like a digestive system, taking in nutrients, breaking them down, and creating energy-rich molecules (Adenosine Triphosphate - ATP) for the cell. These processes of the cell are known as cellular respiration.
We also covered four things to look at for improvement of mitochondria health:
Fasting - When you fast, damaged mitochondria are purged through a process called autophagy - this process helps mitochondria to remove damaged and unwanted debris, accumulated reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and harmful unfolded proteins. Research shows caloric restriction and fasting with improved mitochondrial function, better health, and increased longevity.
Exercise - Aerobic exercise in particular can help change the shape of mitochondria, aid in their repair, and promote mitochondrial balance (I shared in the previous newsletter a specific routine that I use for this purpose)
Nutrition & Supplements - CoQ10, B vitamins, Magnesium, Resveratrol, Alpha-lipoic acid, Creatine, Curcumin, D-Ribose are helpful mitochondrial support along with leafy greens, vegetables, and avoiding processed foods/refined sugar
Quality Sleep & Stress Reduction - Research shows that less than seven hours of sleep per night can lead to reduced mitochondrial DNA in the blood. Sleep deprivation, even for short periods, can result in mitochondrial dysfunction and increased oxidative stress
For a thorough refresher on what mitochondria are and their importance go here.
Today's focus continues with the importance of our mitochondria and its role with our immune system. Dr. Jay Davidson explains, "Only recently have the mitochondria's significant role in the immune system and cellular defense come to light. When there is an infection, the mitochondria help to direct and activate the immune system."
Let's say for example, you have the flu. You feel tired and lethargic. What's going on here? Well, the mighty mitochondria are focusing on their immune function to fight infection (or chronic illness), they are making less ATP, causing the infected person to be tired. Basically, the mitochondria's role of energy production shifts to that of infection-fighter.
Linda Dobberstein, a Board Certified Clinical Nutritionalist, echos Davidson's words and explains further;
"Germs can injure the mitochondrial membranes and its internal structure that cause loss of mitochondrial function and a barrage of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that lead to oxidative stress. During an acute infection, mitochondria in cells are gravely injured and go through apoptosis, or cell death, leading to compromised cellular respiration. This is one of the reasons for the crushing fatigue during an infection or even the low-grade malaise that lingers afterwards. Removal of the damaged mitochondria is a good thing at this point in order to recover as the body can make new mitochondria."
As we are well aware, the ever-present concern now is with the coronavirus and our immune system. To bring more awareness to our immunity, I provided some tips to follow to support it which you can read here.
Keeping in mind that our mitochondria shifts focus from energy production to infection-fighter, let's look at the mitochondria through the lens of the COVID-19 virus. Professor of gerontology, medicine and biological sciences and dean of USC Leonard Davis School, Pinchas Cohen says, “If you already have mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunction, then you may, as a result, have a poor first line of defense against COVID-19. Future work should consider mitochondrial biology as a primary intervention target for SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses."
Studies are showing that COVID-19 mutes the body’s innate inflammatory response and reports that it does so by diverting mitochondrial genes from their normal function. Brendan Miller, the lead author of that study explains that the virus specifically targets mitochondria, which we have learned is a cellular organelle that is a crucial part of the body's innate immune system and energy production.
Recently I read an interesting article in Experience L!fe magazine, "Help for the Long Haul". It discusses how in some cases, COVID-19 is leaving many with an array of chronic symptoms and looks at some strategies to address it. The term you may not be familiar with in regards to COVID-19 and continued symptoms lasting for weeks and months is "Long Hauler".
"Long COVID shares several key characteristics with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and chronic Lyme disease. These include problems with mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the energy-producing powerhouses inside our cells), fatigue, brain fog, and muscle pain."
Once again stated the importance of our mitochondria...
"Two primary mechanisms may account for long-haul symptoms, says Lee Galland, MD,: persistent immune imbalance and a disturbed gut microbiome..." Galland traces this to the way COVID inactivates the ACE-2 enzyme. ACE-2 is the doorway the virus uses to enter our cells and is one of the body's best tools for establishing balance and controlling inflammation. -
"All the severe long-COVID symptoms can be traced back to the loss of ACE-2 activity, even in those who didn't get really sick, he explains. "Loss of ACE-2 can cause problems with energy metabolism and mitochondria and result in cardiac problems, pneumonia, blood clots, kidney failure, strokes, seizures, brain fog, purple toes, excessive inflammation, and autoimmune disease."
There is an abundance of ACE-2 receptors in the GI tract as well - COVID commonly produces gut dysbiosis. The article goes on to explain that dietary changes can be the first step to easing inflammation and oxidative stress, supporting ACE-2 activity and improving mitochondrial function. Galland notes that vitamin D is an important promoter of ACE-2 activity.
Our mitochondria directs traffic and helps to activate the immune system when it comes to fighting an infection or virus. That's the reason our energy feels depleted as our mitochondria has to shift its role as energy to producer to help fight the attack. During this time our mitochondria can become very damaged. We know that COVID-19 specifically targets mitochondria. For the Long Haulers, dietary changes may help in easing the inflammation and oxidative stress as COVID-19 produces gut dysbiosis. Keeping vitamin D levels topped off can help to reduce the risk of getting COVID or reducing the severity. Read more here.
We need to be diligent to the health of our mitochondria and be aware that our lifestyles greatly impact our health. No one wants to be ill, feel sick or tired. There are many things we have at our disposal to improve our whole lives. Focusing again on our mighty mitochondria, we can:
Eat a nutrient-rich diet to support mitochondrial health
Incorporate on a regular basis, intermittent and extended fasting - this can significantly improve your mitochondrial health
Regular exercise can improve mitochondrial health
Make quality sleep a priority
Avoid fried foods
Avoid processed foods, refined sugars, sugary drinks, and limit alcohol consumption
In addition to nutrient-dense foods, consider adding in supplements helpful for mitochondria health like CoQ10, B vitamins, magnesium, and curcumin
What is one thing you can do today to help your mitochondria? Look once again at the bullet points listed above. Start with one of them and do it today. Your health depends upon it.
To our reflection,
Do you have a friend that would benefit from this information?
***Please forward it to them!***
See my last newsletter Longevity & Mitochondrial Health…?