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Healthy Ageing Topic Two: Protecting and supporting energy production

In this 2nd part of our focus on Healthy Ageing we discuss the importance of protecting the mitochondria; the critical compartment within the cell that is focussed on energy production and respiration. We recap on why healthy ageing is important and what we can do to support our mitochondria through nutrition and exercise.

Healthy ageing: why worry?

In our last article we reflected on how ageing is a natural process where the cells and organs of the body gradually decline in function. This natural ageing process does in fact lead to death and in some cases may cause chronic disease before death. We cannot avoid this kind of ageing and ultimately, this is what the body is designed to do. Age.

But what is happening now days is premature ageing. Chronic disorders and disease that is happening at a much faster rate and affecting younger age groups. What might this look like?

  • Cardiovascular dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Auto immune conditions
  • General pain and inflammation

These types of conditions are affecting more and more people under the age of 60 which is of great concern not just for the public health system but also for individuals themselves. These symptoms which affect day to day activity are often debilitating and create another level of stress which feeds into these conditions.

Ideally even past 60 it would be nice to know that these types of conditions may not occur. So what can we do to support healthy ageing and reduce the risk of these early onset chronic disorders or diseases?

We can use nutrition and exercise of course!

Mitochondria – what is it (how do you even say it?!)

(Mito-kon-dreea)

Our body is made up of a network of cells that form the basic structure and function of the body. Absolutely everything that occurs in the body and everything that is considered a structure will be made up of cells.  The Latin meaning of cell is “small room”. These different “small rooms” within the human body have their specific purpose. And for many of these cells one of the key compartments are the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are commonly referred to as the “powerhouse” of the cell. This is where biochemical reactions take place where important nutrients react with oxygen and water to make energy whilst also releasing carbon dioxide and water.

This process is known as cellular respiration. Poor functioning mitochondria will literally result in lower energy. But also lead to poor health.

Aside from making energy, mitochondria are also involved in cell signalling, cellular replication, cellular growth and cell death. So with such an important role that the mitochondria play, it makes sense to understand what we can do to protect and support them.

The cell and mitochondria are made up of phospholipids (a type of fat) and proteins creating a membrane that allows important nutrients to get in as well as keep a good balance of the right nutrients outside of the cell. This balance of nutrients both on the inside and outside of the cell allows for healthy cell structure and function. A healthy cellular membrane will be soft and permeable, where as an unhealthy one will be hard and rigid.

What are the key nutrients needed for cell/mitochondrial health

There are many nutrients which are vital for cellular membrane health one of which is Omega 3. This nutrient is regarded as an Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) meaning it is essential to the body. We MUST have it for optimal health. The body cannot make it, so we must get this nutrient from food or supplements.

Omega 3 that can be utilised quickly and efficiently is commonly found in oily fish and shell fish, but also can be found in plant-based foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed (linseed) and hemp seed. As a supplement we firstly suggest fish oil but if that cannot be tolerated we then suggest flaxseed oil capsules or hempseed oil capsules. Quality is super important here as poor quality supplements can actually create oxidative damage in the body.

Protein is another really important component of healthy cell membrane. Surprisingly some people don’t quite get enough protein in their diet. This is something that as Clinical Nutritionists we can check for you to make sure you are getting the right amount for your needs.

Antioxidants are another really important point to consider for mitochondrial health because of the very nature of how energy is made within the cell. Oxidation occurs when the nutrients react to make energy. So on the one hand YAY we are making energy….on the other hand BOOOO we make oxidative damage.

But guess what! We can mop up this damage through nutrients which are anti- oxidants. These are nutrients which seek out oxidative compounds and get rid of it! Anti-oxidants can be found in a huge range of foods such as; brightly coloured vegetables, seeds, nuts and herbs.

I personally am a huge fan of taking an antioxidant supplement to help further boost our intake of these super important compounds that work synergistically with vitamins and minerals to support healthy ageing. They not only offer great oxidative protection but can help to boost certain body systems like the immune system or digestive system.

Exercise will boost mitochondrial function!

There is a myriad of research that shows the different health benefits that exercise offers for the body. We know that exercise helps to strengthen the musculoskeletal system but also benefits the cardiovascular system, immune system as well supporting our brain and cognitive function.

But did you know that research has shown how at a cellular level high intensity exercise can encourage the cells to replicate and make more mitochondrial proteins.

When we do high intensity exercise we stimulate a key enzyme called AMPK (amp-activated protein kinase) which plays a key role in regulating mitochondrial biogenesis. By stimulating AMPK we have the ability to fire up energy production.

Based on this information research has shown that a cellular level high intensity exercise can encourage cells to replicate and make more mitochondrial proteins which benefit our overall cellular health through creating more energy as well as creating more active muscle.

This kind of research is fantastic as it gives us the knowledge and power to not only protect our cells but heal our bodies using nutrition/supplements and exercise.

For example;  we know that for those who suffer from chronic fatigue, a condition which causes extreme fatigue and increased risk of immune dysfunction, may be supported by using not just nutrition but a small amount of exercise, to help stimulate these key drivers.

Want more info? Book in!

If you want some more information on how to get yourself into MINT condition and help support your body through healthy ageing, why don’t you chat to one of our friendly team.

We have dedicated personal trainers and clinical nutritionists who work together to make sure your experience at MINT helps you reach these important health goals!