Mitochondria is an organelle in every cell in our body that extracts energy from nutrients to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Our body uses ATP to create energy for a host of cellular processes, be it breathing, running, pumping blood or even just thinking.
Mitochondria can burn sugar, but it burns fat much more efficiently. Burning sugar causes free radical damage.
We want high-functioning mitochondria to have the energy it needs to perform its myriad of functions that are crucial to our health and survival, and the single most fundamental – and simplest – ways to boost mitochondrial function is to switch from sugar burning to fat burning mode.
Your levels of leptin determine if you’re a sugar burner or fat burner.
Leptin is a hormone that tells the brain when you are full. It is labeled the “satiety” hormone. Its primary target is the brain, to tell the brain there is enough fat stored and the body can go into “normal” calorie burning mode. Leptin has other functions related to fertility, immunity and brain function as well. But its main role is long-term regulation of energy balance – that is, how many calories we need to eat then expend and how much fat we store in our body.
Being sedentary, high levels of stress, processed foods, pesticides, heavy metal toxicity and environmental toxins all create an over-production of leptin.
When there is an overabundance of leptin floating around, the brain doesn’t recognize that it is there. Therefore people will become leptin resistant. That is when the brain doesn’t receive the signal that there is enough fat stored and to stop eating.
When eating processed foods and eating constantly throughout the day your body will burn sugar and have high blood sugar levels. That means your mitochondria burn sugar (which as we learned is damaging) rather than fat. Sugar burning causes an abnormally high level of leptin (leptin resistance) and in turn causes a reduction of T regulatory cells which leads to internal and external wrinkling of tissues, inflammation & stiffness, and premature aging which opens up the pathway to chronic sickness. This chronic inflammation reduces the mitochondria’s ability to function properly.
Think about it, if our bodies were intended to burn sugar then our bodies would store sugar cubes. It doesn’t, it stores fat. We only store enough sugar to last 30-40 minutes of extreme exertion. Also, when our body is in sugar burning mode, then at night while asleep, and no sugar is coming in, then it’ll break down bone and muscle tissue to make sugar to burn for energy. This breaking down of muscle and bone is a primary factor in osteoporosis and aging.
So, the big question is: Then how do we become fat burning?? Two words. Intermittent Fasting. Going 12-16 hours without eating switches your body to fat burning mode. And since your body will be in fat burning mode, it decreases inflammation and free radical damage. It also decreases triglyceride levels which lowers your risk for heart disease. Eliminating, or better yet, completely reducing your consumption of processed foods/sugars also keeps leptin levels low. When leptin levels are low, you burn fat.
What else keeps leptin levels low? Exercise. Even better, exercising during your fasting hours. This trains the body to use fat for fuel, not sugar, since the sugar isn’t there. And that is good because sugar is an inadequate source of sustained fuel for us anyway. Using fat as your fuel means you will have more energy and lose weight. Sounds good to me!
Consuming phytonutrients is also crucial to keeping leptin levels low. Phytonutrients, found in colorful plant foods, improve leptin signaling.
The more you burn fat during exercise, and the more you maintain proper leptin levels, the more you strengthen your mitochondria function.
Mitochondria is important for more than just energy for workouts and losing weight, though. These organelles are involved in other important functions as well:
- Mitochondria help the cells to maintain proper concentration of calcium ions within the compartments of the cell.
- The mitochondria help in building certain parts of blood and hormones like testosterone and estrogen.
- The liver cells mitochondria have enzymes that detoxify ammonia.
- The mitochondria play an important role in the process of apoptosis which is a programmed cell death. Abnormal death of cells due to the dysfunction of mitochondria can affect the function of an organ.
What are some symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction?
- Loss of motor control,
- Muscle weakness and pain,
- Gastro-intestinal disorders,
- Swallowing difficulties,
- Poor growth,
- Cardiac disease,
- Liver disease,
- Respiratory illness,
- Visual/hearing problems,
- Lactic acidosis,
- Developmental delays and
- Susceptibility to infection.
The good news is, it is really easy to keep your mitochondria healthy! Reduce/eliminate processed food, eat a lot of phytonutrients from plant based foods, and give intermittent fasting a try.