Why Don’t I Have Any Energy? All about your mitochondria

Why don't I have any energy? All about your mitochondria

The mitochondrion (plural mitochondria) is the rod-shaped organelle (it looks like a sausage) found in the cytoplasm of cells. You may recall hearing about mitochondria in high school biology class but you’ve probably never thought about them since.

Now what does that have to do with why you are so darn tired all the time?

Anatomy of an animal cell

Anatomy of an animal cell

In August 2014, I read an article published in the Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal titled “Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment with Natural Supplements”. The author proposed that the loss of function in mitochondria can result in the excess fatigue that is a common complaint in almost every chronic disease. In a 2-month trial, a number of natural supplements to treat mitochonidria dysfunction were administered to 58 partipants. The participants all had moderate-to-severe fatigue for an average of more than 14 years and had been to an average of over 15 practitioners without resolution. 30 participants had chronic fatigue syndrome, 17 with chronic Lyme disease, 16 with other fatiguing illnesses including fibromyalgia, 4 with autoimmune disease including rheumatoid arthritis, 2 with cancer, and 2 with diabetes (I can’t help but wonder how many of the chronically ill patients in this study had hypothyroidism because my bet is most of them). After 8 weeks of these supplements (which they cleverly named “ATP fuel”), there was a 30.7% reduction in fatigue. Here are the names of some of the natural supplements that were included in their “ATP fuel” that reduced fatigue in these chronically ill patients – CoQ10, microencapsulated NADH, l-carnitine, α-lipoic acid.

Now you’ll see why the following guest article from the Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine so intrigued me.

Written by Mark Hyman, MD

Today I’m going to write about mitochondria which is one of my favorite subjects and probably something you’ve never heard about.

“I have heard a lot of talk about your mitochondria,” a reader tweeted. “ What is it and why is it so important?”

This is a great question.

What the heck are mitochondria?

Mitochondria is the source of your energy.

They are little factories in our cells that take the food that we eat and the oxygen that we breathe and convert them to energy. That energy is called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, and it is used to support every function in the body. It’s like our body’s gasoline.

When the mitochondria are damaged, you can suffer from all sorts of symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, chronic pain, weight gain, rapid aging and much more.

Each cell holds hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria. They are found in greater amounts in really active organs and tissues like muscle, heart, and the brain. In fact, the heart and the brain have the most.

We have more than 100,000 trillion mitochondria in our bodies, and each one contains 17,000 little assembly lines for making ATP. So it’s a massive operation.

Mitochondria are the place where our metabolism happens. When your mitochondria are not working properly, your metabolism runs less efficiently or it can practically shut down.

Problems occur because these powerful energy producers are VERY sensitive and they are very easily damaged.

Why am I so tired all the time?

Fatigue is the most common symptom of poorly functioning mitochondria, and it is the reason we tend to feel pooped as we age.

We add constant insult and injury to our mitochondria. This causes them to break down and stop producing enough energy.

Many things can damage our mitochondria. The main way our mitochondria are damaged is by uncontrolled oxidative stress or rusting. That may sound complicated, but we are all really familiar with “oxidative stress”, even if some of us don’t know what the term actually means. Oxidation is the rust on our cars, the brown color that appears on an apple when cut and exposed to air, the rancid vegetable oil or nuts in our cupboards, even the wrinkles that form on our skin as we age because of sun damage.

What most of us don’t realize is that our own tissues are rusting, our own fats are going rancid, and our brains are melting as we go up our daily lives. What starts this process is some insult – too many calories, smoking, sunburn, exposure to environmental toxins, sugar (which is probably the most important mitochondrial toxin) – and that tips the balance starting this chain reaction of cellular and tissue damage that leads us down a long road to fatigue, weight gain, rapid aging, and chronic illness.

So how do we care for our mitochondria?

It’s really simple. You want happy, healthy, replicating mitochondria.

1. Provide the mitochondria with the correct environment to thrive in. 

  • Eat less processed food, junk food, sugar, and empty calories.
  • Detoxify your body by getting rid of environmental and internal toxins.
  • Cool off the inflammation in your body.
  • Balance your hormones.

2. Next, you need to exercise. It is the most powerful mitochondrial booster that you can do. Interval training is especially powerful. That’s when you go super fast, slow, super fast, slow and that increases the efficiency and function of your mitochondria so your metabolism speeds up. Strength training increases the amount of muscle and the number of mitochondria so again your metabolism increases. Muscle burns 7 times more calories than fat.

3. Also eat more real, whole, colorful plant foods. These foods are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients which protect your mitochondria. Aim for 8 to 12 servings of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds, every single day.

4. Incorporate the following nutrients into your daily regimen. They are all part of the assembly line that help your mitochondria make energy. Speak to your doctor about adding new supplements to your regimen. The supplements that I mention are widely available in vitamin and health food stores. Do your research to ensure you select quality, toxin-free brands that are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and GMO-free. Pure Encapsulations is one of my recommended brands. The Energize Plus Pure Pack is a mutivitamin/mineral complex which includes several of the ones listed and I recommend it in my Eat Fat, Get Thin challenge.

  • Acetyl-L-carnitine
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • N-acetyl-cysteine
  • NADH
  • D-ribose
  • Resveratrol
  • Magnesium aspartate

5. Increase your intake of omega-3 fats. Why? Because they help build your mitochondrial membranes. Food and oxygen have to pass into the mitochondria through these membranes. Be sure to include things like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and egg yolks. Take a quality, toxin-free omega-3 rich fish oil supplement. If you’re curious to learn more, my Eat Fat, Get Thin book shows you how to effortlessly incorporate more omega 3s and other health fats into your diet.

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About Mark Hyman, MD

Dr. Mark Hyman is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine in Cleveland, OH, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA, regular contributor to the Today show, Good Morning America, and The Dr. Oz Show, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author. He is helping people lose stubborn weight with his book Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health and the cookbook filled with recipes The Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook.


Garth L. Nicolson. Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment with Natural Supplements. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2014 Aug;13(4):35-43.

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About Dana Trentini

Who knew that little butterfly-shaped thyroid gland at the base of my neck could affect my life so completely? I founded Hypothyroid Mom in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Winner of two 2014 WEGO Health Activist Awards: Health Activist Hero & Best In Show Twitter. Hypothyroid Mom is for information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes Affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Connect with me on Google+