Mitochondrial health and function are at the heart of healthy aging, chronic diseases, optimal performance, and the overall well-being of the human body. When mitochondria function properly, they contribute to optimal cell and tissue performance, ultimately leading to better health. On the other hand, mitochondrial dysfunction can have severe consequences. It has been linked to various health conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and age-related disorders. We can support these organelles through a process called biohacking: a healthy lifestyle including exercise, a balanced diet, stress management, and helpful supplements.
To better understand this fascinating and vital organelle, let’s journey through its structure and function.
We start our journey at the membrane of the cell and enter through the phospholipid layer into the cytoplasm of the cell. We encounter countless proteins, golgi apparatus, and other vital cell components, until finally we encounter our first mitochondria. Depending on the type, cells contain between 900 to 1,200 mitochondria, with muscle cells including the heart containing the largest number. As we venture inside the mitochondria we must go through its double membrane. The double membrane is necessary to protect the inner workings of the mitochondria and is the only cell organelle that actually has a double membrane. The outer membrane is smooth and acts as a protective barrier, while the inner membrane is intricately folded and laden with many proteins. The folds on the inner membrane are called cristae and these folds protrude into the inner space of the mitochondria called the matrix. If you were to stand in the center of the matrix the cristae would appear as rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see.
Within the matrix, or the innermost sanctum of the mitochondria you will find a bustling factory of activity. The matrix is filled with enzymes, ions, and molecules all engaged in activities associated with supporting energy production which takes place on the inner membrane. The central process involved is the respiratory chain. The Respiratory chain and its enzymes are embedded in the inner membrane where adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal currency of cellular energy, is made. The respiratory chain is composed of a series of electron transport proteins that pass electrons from one to another, driving the flow of energy. A protein that is a noticeable workhorse in this process is ATP synthase.
The mitochondria also contain their own DNA – highly conserved. This is a completely different and independent set of genes from the genes carried in the nucleus. This DNA, which is a vestige from its ancient origin, encodes essential proteins vital for energy production. As we leave the mitochondria, we leave the world of a bustling factory and endless cristae-laden inner membrane, back through its double membrane layer.
In the inner matrix of the fluid-filled mitochondria, there is an abundance of enzymes, ions, and molecules involved in cellular respiration. Cellular respiration serves as the foundation of energy production. Through a series of intricate steps, the matrix harnesses the potential energy stored within nutrients, such as glucose, and releases it in the form of ATP.
The respiratory chain is an assembly of protein complexes embedded within the inner membrane. These proteins pass electrons from one to another, creating a flow of energy. As electrons travel through this chain, their energy is harnessed to pump protons from the matrix to the space between the membranes, establishing an electrochemical gradient. ATP synthase which is nestled within the inner membrane harnesses the potential energy stored in the proton gradient. As protons flow back into the matrix through the ATP synthase, energy is converted into the production of ATP. This process is known as oxidative phosphorylation and is the grand finale of events occurring in the mitochondria.
So how can we protect and support mitochondrial function and processes? We can look at what is called biohacking. Biohacking refers to the practice of making changes to one’s lifestyle, diet, or environment to enhance physical or mental performance and achieve optimal health. It involves using various techniques, including the use of technology, supplements, and lifestyle modifications, to improve overall well-being and potentially increase longevity. Scientific research in this field is still emerging. Some biohacking practices do have scientific support behind them. For example, regular exercise, a healthy diet, stress reduction, and sufficient sleep all have a positive effect on overall health and well-being. As well, certain supplements have been studied for their benefits.
Yes, it is possible to biohack the mitochondria. Biohacking involves optimizing their function to enhance cellular energy production and overall health. Following are a few ways in which mitochondria can be biohacked:
- Nutrients: certain nutrients play a vital role in mitochondrial function. To begin with, consuming a balanced diet rich in antioxidants (fruits and veggies) can help protect mitochondria from oxidative damage. Additionally, nutrients like coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and acetyl-L-carnitine have been suggested to support mitochondrial health
- Exercise: regular physical exercise has been shown to enhance mitochondrial function. Engaging in aerobic exercises, such as running or cycling, can increase mitochondrial density and improve efficiency in generating energy.
- Hydrotherapy (cold): cold exposures such as taking cold showers or immersing in cold water can stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis and improve their function. Cold exposure activates brown fat, which is rich in mitochondria and can increase energy expenditure.
- Intermittent fasting: this is where one goes through periods of fasting and eating. This has been associated with increased mitochondrial efficiency and cellular stress resistance.
- Supplementation: some supplements have been proposed to support mitochondrial function by promoting cellular energy metabolism.
NION is a patent-formulated electrolyte drink. Its NCS-330 mV crystalline matrix stabilizes a high -330 mV electro gradient within a micro-coated crystalline structure consisting of a calcium carbonate carrier and three extremely reactive electrolytes: magnesium hydroxide, potassium chloride, and potassium hydroxide.
So what has it been observed to do? Two clinical studies with human subjects were conducted at Montana State Human Performance Lab under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Heil. Each study involved the participants engaging in strenuous physical activities. Several different physiological and metabolic endpoints were measured. Participants consumed NION 5 days prior to measuring outcomes. Some key study findings are listed below:
- NION helped to support more effective and efficient heart function. More cardiovascular testing is warranted for further and concise evaluation
- NION helps decrease muscle fatigue during exercise (we believe this is also related to mitochondrial function)
- NION appears to be associated with improved lactate clearance and lactate utilization.
- NION is associated with increased VO2 max. It is associated with improved cardiovascular health.
Based on these findings we hypothesize that NION:
- NION may have some effect on increasing mitochondrial function leading to improvements in cardiovascular fitness.
- NION may have some effect on increasing electron chain efficiency in mitochondria and therefore the ability to generate increased ATP.
Here’s what we know:
- NION may lead to improved mitochondrial function which can be measured*.
- NION may lead to improved mitochondrial health which can be measured.*
- NION may lead to increased ATP through increased mitochondrial function which can be measured*.
- NION may lead to higher levels of fatty acid utilization and production of increased ATP, which can be measured.*
In summary, we can support mitochondrial health and function, improving wellness and health. Studies using NION suggest that it assists in mitochondrial function and energy production.
Cooper, ID et al Bio-Hacking Better Health – Leveraging Metabolic Biochemistry to Maximize Healthspan. Antioxidants, 2023 Sep 12(9):17449
Nunnari, S et al Mitochondria: In Sickness and in Health Cell 2012 March 16; 148(6):1145-1159
Memme, JM et al Exercise and Mitochondrial Health. J Physiol 2021 Feb; 599(3):803-817
Aon, MA et al Mitochondrial Health, the Epigenome and Healthspan. Clin Sci 2016 Aug 1; 130(15):1285-305
Dr. Lisa Price is a licensed Naturopathic Physician with expertise in complementary cancer care, and culinary nutrition during cancer treatment through survivorship.
A National Institute of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research Fellow (2005-2010), she is also an author, radio host, lecturer, and adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University. She studied microbial biochemistry as an undergraduate and as a Master of Science student in New York, and graduated from the prestigious Bastyr University in 1998, with honors in counseling.
With an NIH research fellow in immunology and oncology, Dr. Price has published peer-reviewed scientific papers and abstracts, written many articles on health and nutrition, and presented her findings at scientific conferences.