Nutrition and Mitochondrial Health: A responsible relationship

Saumya Surekha, Panjab University, Chandigarh

2021-09-08 10:59:23



Cooperation isn't just for people; without it, life as we know it would cease to exist. The chloroplast and the mitochondrion are both organelles that were once free-living cells. They were prokaryotes that got accommodated inside other cells. They could have joined the other cell by being eaten, or they could have been parasites of that host cell. Rather than being digested or killed by the host cell, the inner cell survived and thrived together. In exchange for a comfortable and safe place to dwell, the organelle pays rent by producing energy that the host cell can utilise. This occurred a long time ago, and the organelle and the host cell have evolved together throughout time. As a result, the two are inseparable from one another. They now function as a single entity [1].

“Mitochondria are the cell's powerhouse,” is one of biology's most overused phrases. For years, the term "powerhouse" has been firmly embedded in our middle school textbooks, and it refers to the mitochondria's ability to produce energy, but they are so much more than that. Aside from assisting cells in the production of energy, ongoing studies are revealing several novel mitochondrial characteristics. According to Salk Institute researchers, mitochondria can set off a chain of events that alert the rest of the cells that face stress—the type, chemical stress that can damage DNA. When they noticed how defective mitochondrial DNA caused the cell to eject the damaged mitochondria and send out a chemical warning signal that strengthens the cell's defences, they were intrigued. So they looked into what would happen if some DNA from the mitochondria leaked into the surrounding fluids. When they did, scientists discovered that a group of genes that are normally triggered when a virus invades the body had been activated. That's exactly what we want our immune system to do when it identifies a virus: assault it. Cancer cells that have developed resistance to chemotherapy are also triggered by the same cluster of genes. Specifically, cancer that is resistant to the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin, which targets nuclear DNA. When they investigated this drug further, they discovered that it caused the release of mitochondrial DNA from the mitochondria, which activated a subset of those protective genes, which then protected the nuclear DNA [2]. As a result of the activation of these genes, a pathway was set up to protect the nuclear DNA, which is why some malignancies were able to resist the effect of this drug. The purpose of that response, according to the researchers, is to protect the DNA in the cell's nucleus, making the mitochondria a warning signal that something bad is happening. They believe that if they can find a way to safeguard the mitochondrial DNA, they will be able to prevent the immune response within the cell and develop more effective chemotherapy treatments. So, not only is our cell's powerhouse efficient at generating energy, but it also has a fascinating biography full of hints to our past and future medical treatments.

Further research revealed that mitochondria also play a very essential part in neurodegenerative disorders like Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's [3-4]. The mitochondria in all three disorders are dysfunctional, resulting in brain shrinkage. With a little more digging, I discovered research in which fish oil, creatine, and co-enzyme Q were used to preserve mice brains and mitochondria [5-6]. Throughout syllabi, we had to memorise a plethora of mitochondrial reactions. Those reactions are simply memorised, and we don't bother to discover which compounds our cells can produce and which we need to eat for those reactions to occur effectively. More research revealed that the mitochondria require a high level of B vitamins, sulphur, and antioxidants to thrive.

For the past two and a half million years, humans ate what they could gather and hunt. These people were referred to as foragers, also known as hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer diet, also known as the Paleo diet, consists of leaves, roots, berries, meat, and fish [7]. It's fresh, in season, and, of course, organic. These ancient peoples were more knowledgeable than today's scientists and physicians about eating for optimal health and vitality. Greens must be incorporated into the diet because they are rich in B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals. Protecting brain cells and mitochondria with B-vitamins is a great idea! Immune cells are aided by vitamins A and C. Vitamin K promotes the health of blood vessels and bones. Minerals, on the other hand, are co-factors for hundreds of enzymes in the body. Every day, a plate of sulfur-rich vegetables must be consumed. Sulphur is required for the proper functioning of the brain and mitochondria. Toxins in the bloodstream must be removed by the liver and kidneys, which require sulphur. Sulfur is found in abundance in the cabbage family. Every day, a plate full of vegetables (3 cups), preferably of different colours, must be included in the diet. Flavonoids and polyphenols are responsible for colours. These potent antioxidants support the retina, mitochondria, brain cells, and toxin elimination. A high-quality protein that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids should also be included in the diet. In addition, grass-fed meat must be included in the diet. The ancients would travel long distances or engage in trade to gain access to seaweed. Iodine and selenium are abundant in seaweed. Iodine is required by the brain to produce myelin, which serves as insulation for the wiring. It also requires iodine to remove toxins such as mercury, lead, and heavy metals. To ensure and maintain adequate iodine levels, seaweed must be consumed at least once a week.

Yes, these lovely vegetables and berries will cost extra, but they are worth it. Pay the price now for food that restores the health and vitality, or pay the price later for doctor's visits, prescription drugs, surgeries, lost work time, early retirement, and nursing home care. Eat delicious, convenient, tasty processed food and watch ourselves and others become overweight, depressed, diabetic, with burdened health-care costs, bankrupting individuals and the country collectively, or eat for the mitochondria by including vegetables, berries, grass-fed meat, organ meat, and seaweed in the plate nutrition. Every one of us has a choice. Consume foods that support mitochondrial function and serve as an ambassador for your mitochondrial health.



1.  Dayhoff, M. and R. Schwartz, Prokaryote evolution and the symbiotic origin of eukaryotes, in Endosymbiosis and cell biology. 2021, de Gruyter. p. 63-84.

2.  Wu, Z., et al., Mitochondrial DNA stress signalling protects the nuclear genome. Nature metabolism, 2019. 1(12): p. 1209-1218.

3. Monzio Compagnoni, G., et al., The role of mitochondria in neurodegenerative diseases: the lesson from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Molecular Neurobiology, 2020. 57: p. 2959-2980.

4. Farshbaf, M.J. and K. Ghaedi, Huntington’s disease and mitochondria. Neurotoxicity research, 2017. 32(3): p. 518-529.

5. Beal, M.F., Bioenergetic approaches for neuroprotection in Parkinson's disease. Annals of Neurology: Official Journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society, 2003. 53(S3): p. S39-S48.

6. Somayajulu, M., et al., Role of mitochondria in neuronal cell death induced by oxidative stress; neuroprotection by Coenzyme Q10. Neurobiology of Disease, 2005. 18(3): p. 618-627.s

7.  Crittenden, A.N. and S.L. Schnorr, Current views on hunter?gatherer nutrition and the evolution of the human diet. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2017. 162: p. 84-109.