Mitochondria and Energy


Do you suffer from low energy and fatigue? Do you find yourself reaching for stimulants such as caffeine to keep you awake?

We might not automatically link low energy to the function of the mitochondria, but since the mitochondria make 70 – 80% of our energy we should be paying more attention to them.

Our mitochondria produce energy by converting glucose and oxygen into a chemical called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). In this process, by products called free radicals are produced, which can oxidize and damage parts of the cell such as the mitochondrial membranes and the cell’s DNA.

Fortunately our mitochondria and cells also produce antioxidants which neutralize these free radicals and protect the cells from damage.

When we are young, our mitochondria produce lots of energy and we have plenty natural antioxidants to fight free radical damage, but as we age the mitochondria begin to decline in function and so produce less antioxidants. This causes us to take longer to recover from illness or injury and we start to show visible signs of aging.

Adenosine, which is formed from the breakdown of ATP is generally what causes us to feel tired.

Caffeine and other stimulants block the effect of adenosine, which is why they give a temporary lift, but this is not the answer. Long-term use of stimulants decreases our body’s baseline energy levels. The caffeine or other stimulant can then only increase energy to what the normal level of energy initially was, so it’s actually a false boost.

What causes damage to the mitochondria?

Environmental stressors such as poor diet, poor gut health, chronic inflammation, pollution and toxins kill of our mitochondria. The result of weak, damaged or dysfunctional mitochondria is chronic fatigue.

Our mitochondria function in energy mode or defense mode. If defense mode is triggered by any of the above factors, the mitochondria switch off energy production.

The amount of energy we have can be a reflection of how well our mitochondria are doing.

Before you reach for the next cup of coffee or other type of stimulant, consider if any of the following could be at the root of your fatigue:

  • Underlying infections? Chronic low-grade viruses, bacteria or parasites that could be contributing to the problem
  • Inflammation
  • Unmanaged stress
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Sleep issues
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 16 July 2020 to learn more.

Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am