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why mitochondrial function / dysfunction might just be the single most important aspect of your health you’ve never heard of


When I came to the realization that I desperately needed to have a dedicated post on mitochondrial function / dysfunction for my website, I knew one thing and one thing only — that I didn’t know much; it’s not my area of expertise (you’d think I’d know more considering how many times I had to memorize the blasted KREBS / TCA CYCLE in school).  I quickly realized that if I wanted something good — something useful that people would actually read — a guest post was in order.  Fortunately, I knew exactly who to ask — Dr. Chandler Marrs.

Besides reading and studying, a great way to get smarter is to hang out with really smart people.  Dr. Marrs certainly fills that bill.  And while I’ve never hung out with Dr. Marrs personally, I’ve had any number of online conversations with her (including several about a current passion of hers — POWERLIFTING — three lifts; the squat, deadlift, and benchpress).  

What makes Dr. Marrs qualified to write today’s post?  For starters, her credentials.  She received her BA in philosophy from the University of Redlands; MS in Clinical Psychology from California Lutheran University; and, MA and Ph.D in Experimental Psychology / Neuroendocrinology from the UNLV, where she also worked for awhile as a professor and researcher. 

After grasping just how difficult it was going to be to make the changes she realized were needed, to a health system that was fundamentally flawed in so vast a number of ways, Dr. Marrs set out on a true trailblazing journey, founding a company called LUCINE HEALTH SCIENCES, which actually crowd sources biomedical research. 

What’s doubly cool is that while we would undoubtedly disagree on any number of things; she has written extensively about many of the same topics that I continue to share with my readers on a regular basis.  Some of those she specifically mentions on her site (and even in her paper below) include….

And that, folks, is just for starters. In other words, Dr. Marrs can flat out bring it!  Oh; I almost forgot to mention, she has another website called HORMONES MATTER, as well as a rocking FACEBOOK PAGE.  I also want to plug her most recent book that I am in the process of reading (Thiamine Deficiency Disease, Dysautonomia, and High Calorie Malnutrition HERE) and will review (as I have done with others in the past — HERE) as soon as I finish it.   Without further adieu, here is Dr. Chandler Marr’s guest post on MITOCHONDRIA.


Adapting to a Hostile Environment: Mitochondria are Key

Ever think about your mitochondria? Probably not. In fact, unless you study them, most folks don’t pay much heed to these little buggers. We should. Without healthy mitochondria all sorts of things go awry. Mitochondria sit at the nexus of all disease. In some cases, the mitochondria initiate disease. In other cases, they simply magnify and maintain the disease process. Whether cause or consequence, however, one thing is certain, ailing mitochondria guarantee ill-health. Ignore at your own risk.

Why are Mitochondria Important? One word: Energy.

Born from bacteria a gazillion years ago, the mitochondria control energy production for all of life, transforming the food we eat into the chemical energy needed for cell function called adenosine triphosphate, ATP for short. Energy is critical for life. Imagine trying drive a car without fuel. It just doesn’t work. Same goes for driving the human body; no fuel, no go.

From that perspective, fueling the mitochondria and the body are pretty simple procedures. So long as we are not starving, mitochondria will take the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins we eat and convert them into ATP and that’s the end of it. In fact, for most folks, sadly physicians and mitochondrial researchers included, that is the end of it. Macronutrients in, chango-presto, ATP out. Sure there are a series of complicated reactions to get from ingested foods to ATP, but the assumption is that barring mutations in the mitochondrial machinery, which are considered rare, those processes happen automatically.

And mostly they do, until they don’t.

What most folks don’t realize is that for all of their remarkable tenacity, mitochondria are quite fragile. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are very common, 1 in 200, by some accounts, as are mutations in any of the 1500 housekeeping proteins controlled by chromosomal DNA or nuclear DNA (nDNA). Yes, you read that correctly, mtDNA are not the sole contributors to mitochondrial function (despite the textbook admonitions to the contrary).

The mitochondria rely heavily on nDNA for all sorts of operations. In fact, fully 90% of mitochondrial proteins are encoded by the nuclear genome. This means that even though our mtDNA are inherited from mom only, Dad contributes too, and thus, the possibility for errors is far greater than any of us suspects.

And then, if we consider all of the environmental and pharmaceutical chemicals that damage and/or inappropriately activate or deactivate genes that control mitochondria directly or indirectly, the chances of having at least some faulty mitochondria becomes exponentially larger. Fortunately, we have several trillion of these organelles, (up to 2000 per cell), providing lots of backup potential. Moreover, when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, the lifecycle of mitochondria is one of constant renewal. Damaged mitochondria are sequestered and killed off and new ones are born.

The problem is, these processes take lots and lots of energy. This is in addition to the energy needed to fuel basic human life support, and so with each passing insult, the balance between healthy and diseased mitochondria shifts, eventually reaching a tipping point where unhealthy mitochondria outnumber the healthy ones and new mutations are born. These mutations are born not of a genetic lineage, though we certainly have a lot of those, but of environmental factors – our modern lifestyle that includes poor diet along with an inevitable exposure to a slew of chemical toxicants.

What Keeps the Balance of Healthy to Unhealthy Mitochondria in Check?

Nutrients. In order for the mitochondrial machinery to work, they need micronutrient co-factors, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and the like. These micronutrients must be ingested by us, absorbed, metabolized by bacteria, and transported to the mitochondria. This requires proper diet (which few of us have anymore), healthy gut bacteria (which even fewer of us have with our incessant use of antibiotics), and functioning nutrient transporters and processing enzymes (errors or SNPs in this machinery are more common than recognized).

It takes 22 separate nutrients to power mitochondrial machinery, to make ATP and keep everything running (there is a great graphic in Chapter 3 of our book regarding mitochondrial nutrients). Sit with that for a moment. At least twenty-two separate vitamins, minerals, amino acids and even some metals, in an appropriate balance, are required to make mitochondrial machinery function effectively. Now, consider the modern western diet. It is replete with highly processed, nutritionally devoid, food-like substances. Heck even our agriculture is heavily laden with toxicants and bred, not for nutrients, but for appearance. How many of us can say we are getting sufficient nutrients? Not many.

What Happens When Nutrition Wanes?

Absent those micronutrients, no matter how many macronutrients are ingested, ATP production will slow, energy levels wane, and a whole slew of compensatory/survival mechanisms are initiated at the molecular level that ultimately result in disease. In fact, absent those micronutrients, increasing consumption of macronutrients, particularly carbohydrates, further taxes an already taxed system, leaching additional vitamins and minerals, causing further deficits, derailing mitochondrial functioning and, when severe or chronic enough, initiating genetic and/or epigenetic changes.

Before we get to genetic and epigenetic changes, however, there are cascades of mitochondrially mediated survival mechanisms – innate adaptive mechanisms designed to stave off death, that when the stressor is severe enough or chronic enough, lead to a slower death; one of chronic disease. Among the compensatory reactions associated with distressed mitochondria are increased inflammation, dysregulated immune and endocrine function, and altered central and autonomic nervous system function – the makers of modern disease. If the metabolic disruptions continue for long enough, cancer ensues.

Some of the latest research shows that cancer cells only replicate when in the presence of distressed mitochondria. A leading cause of mitochondrial disruption: hyperglycemia. Indeed, the process of cancer may be considered one of the body’s many mechanisms to adapt to a hostile micro-environment, one of high calorie malnutrition. The seminal work by Otto Warburg suggested as much some 70 years ago. I tend to agree.

In many ways, modern disease is more about environment than any other factor, chronic adaptive responses to a hostile or toxic environment. Though these reactions seem maladaptive, and may become so over time as systems become increasingly taxed and re-regulated, their initiation is adaptive and represents a necessary response to a stressor. It is only when there are not sufficient resources (energy/ATP) to resolve those stressors or when the stressors are continuous that disease processes develop.

When resources are depleted, reactions that were meant to be short term become entrenched, increasingly disrupting an already distressed system. This leads to all sorts of complex, seemingly disparate, and almost always chronic conditions. In other words, most of the diseases of modernity are linked directly to a sort of malnutrition, often a high calorie malnutrition, where diet is insufficient to supply the requisite nutrients to power mitochondrial machinery.

Surely, I am not suggesting that diet causes disease? I am. Diet causes disease. As much as we don’t want to admit this to ourselves, much of what ails us is not due to some random constellation of genetic errors, though those account for a small percentage of disease processes (~15%), it is due to what we chose to put into our bodies. High calorie, nutrient poor foods, while providing the bulk substrates needed to produce ATP, starve the mitochondrial machinery responsible for those processes.

If those foods also include chemical preservatives, more problems arise. The whole system gets backed up, fat accumulates (fat storage is a protective mechanism too), ATP production wanes, inflammation increases, immune reactions go haywire, hormones re-regulate (and not for the better), sympathetic nervous system reactions become unorganized, and so on.

Inasmuch as mitochondria are required for cell, tissue and organ function, mitochondrial distress leads to seemingly complex and disparate disease processes that affect the body broadly. Since the nervous and the cardiovascular systems require a constant and high volume supply of ATP, those systems will be affected more severely, but so too will the GI system and the musculature. Effectively, everything goes haywire to some degree or another when mitochondria derail, making them some of the most complex diseases processes to identify, unless of course, one is looking.

How to Heal

The flip side, of course, is that diet treats disease. Indeed, unless and until dietary and nutrient issues are resolved, I would argue that no amount of pharmaceutical intervention will treat these conditions. Sure, they might mask the symptoms and provide temporary relief, but true healing will be impossible. Since all pharmaceuticals damage mitochondria by one mechanism or another, I would argue that they are mostly contraindicated and making matters worse. That is a topic for another day, however.

Bottom line, if you are suffering from a compendium of chronic health issues that don’t seem to resolve, feed your mitochondria. Clean up your diet, avoid chemicals, and consider the possibility that you may need additional vitamin and mineral supplements to heal. As I mentioned earlier in the post, few of us have sufficiently healthy gut bacteria to synthesize or metabolize nutrients effectively and many of us have at least some genetic errors that affect nutrient transporters or utilization such that even with a spotless diet, supplementation, sometimes with quite high doses, may be necessary.

If you would like more information, I co-wrote a book called: Thiamine Deficiency Disease, Dysautonomia and High Calorie Malnutrition. I also run an online health journal called Hormones Matter, where you’ll find hundreds of articles on mitochondrial health, nutrients, chronic disease and all sorts of other topics.

My Take on Dr. Marrs’ Take on Mitochondrial Function / Dysfunction

Did you notice what Dr Marrs said?  “No amount of pharmaceutical intervention will treat these conditions“.  That means it’s up to you.  The thing is, you can do it — I have patients breaking free from their chains of pain and disease each and every day (HERE).  And because I really care about your health, THIS POST is a (completely free) primer on how to go about taking your life back (and restoring mitochondrial function in the process)!  Just be sure to like, share, or follow on FACEBOOK — and do the same for Dr. Marrs while you’re at it!  


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2 Responses

  1. Very distressing that you/she does not offer soome list or examples of the micro-nutrients that are lacking in the high-calorie starvation diet.

    1. Thanks Michael, I think it’s safe to assume that in a junk-laden high carb scenario that is consumed almost exclusively by a huge portion of Western society, particularly the young people, that all nutrients are compromised on some level. Dr. Marrs emphasis, however, is on Thiamine. She is unarguably one of the world’s leading experts in this specific niche.

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