By Dr. Scott Colasanti
If you haven’t taken high school biology, you may have no idea of what a mitochondria is, but for many of us, when we hear the word mitochondria, we think back to Biology 101 and think, ‘the energy powerhouse of the cell’.
We have trillions of cells in our bodies, and they are a world unto themselves. They make up all of the various body tissues from brain, to heart, to skin. We are basically made up of a bunch of different types of cells. We need these cells to survive because they are responsible for orchestrating the multitude of biochemical reactions that basically make us function. For example our red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is a protein that our body uses to bind oxygen molecules in our lung tissue and then transport it to our body tissues. We need oxygen to ‘fuel’ many of these biochemical reactions that are constantly taking place.
Cells contain many different organelles are basically mini-organs or ‘machinery’ of the cell and they serve specific functions. Arguably the most important organelle is the mitochondria and most our cells contain them. In fact, they compose about 10% of our body weight. They are known as the powerhouse of the cells because they are responsible for generating a chemical called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. This is important because this molecule is the source of chemical energy that our bodies need to function and survive. When we eat, our food is broken down and goes through a number of biochemical transformations that ultimately result in the productions of ATP, mostly in our mitochondria. Mitochondria are also responsible for other functions such as controlling the cell cycle, and cell growth and cell death.
In the past, the importance of mitochondria and their impact on human health has been understated. Current research shows a strong link between our overall health and the number of mitochondria we have. It has been shown that increasing the production of mitochondria (mitochondrial biogenesis) is directly linked to better health and longer life.
So, what can we do to have healthier cells and increase our mitochondria?
Basically, living a healthy lifestyle; eating a good variety of nutrient-rich and anti-oxidant rich foods, exercising and minimizing stress. (Sound familiar?)
Take home message:
Eat less + eat healthy + exercise + reduce stress = more mitochondria = longer, healthier life!