The Mitochondrial Mind
Mitochondria are little organelles that power all of the cells in your body. You may have never heard of them before, but these amazing structures are responsible for all internal energy transfer – the outer membrane for passing around ions and molecules, and the inner membrane for electron transport and ATP synthesis. This post is only intended to be a very brief introduction to the magical little things (learning about how they work is an entire field of research in itself), but even a small amount of knowledge about them can be precious: mitochondrial dysfunction might just be the root cause of every chronic disorder known to humanity, including those of the mind.
There are two fascinating facts about mitochondria that lead to the above hypothesis, or that make for a reasonable inference of that sort at the very least. The first fact is that mitochondrial division is independent from that of the cells within which they reside, which means that they can be created by a unique and autonomous mechanism. In addition to this, they are also able to use ketone bodies for fuel as well as glucose, whereas many other cells (including cancer cells) are glycolytic, which means that they can function in the absence of carbohydrates, whilst other (possibly sinister) cells die away. The second fact is that mitochondrial density is highest in the heart and brain, which means that quality of energy transport in the body is probably best reflected by analysis of cardiovascular and neurological function. In other words, a healthy heart, and a healthy mind may indicate the rate of energy transfer in every other organ in the body. So, it is reasonable to infer that malfunction of the brain is reflective of mitochondrial dysfunction, either in a concentrated region or in a plurality of bodily systems and processes. How’s your memory been lately? Can you summarize my last paragraph? If not, you might want to tweak your metabolism…
Supposing this hypothesis is true, why is it relevant? Well, beyond complex biology and this new postulation there is little more than anecdotal evidence for treatments targeted at perfecting the function of mitochondria, at least for the time being. However, the anecdotal evidence is building at an alarming rate, and the science is emerging along with it in defense. Most fascinatingly, the treatments that are proving to have the most effects are those which patients can implement themselves (as well as healthy controls, in case you fancy experimenting 😉 I’d be happy to write you a protocol if so). Briefly, nutrients shown to be required for successful mitochondrial respiration include alpha-lipoic acid (a compound found in spinach, Brussels sprouts, yams, and potatoes), coenzyme Q10 (found in organ meats like such as liver, kidney and heart), acetyl-l-cartinine (found in pork, seafood and chicken), sulphur (found in mushrooms and Brussels sprouts), iodine (found in seaweed and some fish), reservatrol (found in red wine), vitamin D (in egg yolk and fatty fish), and magnesium (abundant in greens). A case for a nutritionally complete, micro-nutrient dense, whole-food, meat-including, wine-including protocol? Possibly.
Many have implemented a diet centered around the foods above and done little else (other than to eliminate foods not included in the above categories, such as flours, refined starches, legumes and grains), to find a regression of symptoms from ‘degenerative’ diseases such as MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other disorders such as epilepsy and ADHD, among others. It’s truly exciting. However, any good scientist will caution against conflating correlation with causation – perhaps the micronutrients have no role in the regression of chronic neuro-degenerative disorders, rather, the low-glycemic index of the above foods bring down blood glucose and insulin levels, reduce omega 6 concentrations in tissue and reduce inflammation to the point of facilitating energy transport to a quality that mirrors pre-diagnosis levels. Perhaps it puts the patient in a state of nutritional ketosis, allowing the mitochondria to proliferate and flourish by a mechanism that gives them superiority over other cells. Regardless, implementing such a diet may be worthwhile even if the specific reasons as to why it works are forever mysterious.
That concludes my little introduction to the mitochondria, for now. May it bring you food for thought.
By Emma Langley