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As we age, “the number and functionality of mitochondria naturally degrade," one expert says.
As we all may (or may not) remember from our high-school biology classes, mitochondria are organelles frequently referred to as “the powerhouses of the cells” of living things. Mitochondria are responsible for respiration and energy production within the cells’ cytoplasm; the energy produced is in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Mitochondria also generate heat, mediate cell growth and death, and store calcium for cell-signaling activities. The number of mitochondria per cell varies; for example, in humans, red blood cells contain no mitochondria, but liver cells and muscle cells may contain hundreds to thousands.
Reduced Mitochondrial Function
As we age, says David Tetzlaf, senior marketing manager for ingredient supplier Evolva (Reinach, Switzerland), which markets resveratrol for mitochondrial support, “the number and functionality of mitochondria naturally degrade, which may lead to cognition decline and also reduce our overall performance capacity.” He explains that muscles, for instance, will not perform without ATP; therefore, regenerating the mitochondria in muscle cells “is extremely helpful, especially as we age.” Resveratrol can be a tool to support this regeneration, he says.
Scott Steinford, of Trust Transparency Center consulting firm, likens mitochondrial support to properly maintaining our motor vehicles, and explains it this way: “Imagine your new car with a full tank of gas and the engine running. The engine maintains a steady purr as the combustion in the engine runs all cylinders, and all functions of the car are normal.
“Now imagine, as the gas is depleted, it is replaced with diluted gas, which causes the engine to slowly become less able to create the combustion necessary to make the engine run smoothly. The heat produced as the spark-plug ignites the fuel becomes less and less. Horsepower is diminished, the ability to recharge the battery is diminished, and eventually the engine cannot keep up with the energy requirements of the vehicle.
“The car’s engine and functions slow to dangerously low levels, affecting all aspects of the vehicle’s performance. If the process of fuel dilution continues long enough, irreparable damage to the vehicle occurs.”
As it relates to the body, Steinford says, the diluted gasoline is comparable to mitochondrial dysfunction and its effect on the body’s “engine.”
Ingredients for Support
Thomas Bowman, PhD, senior scientist at Jarrow Formulas Inc., says that his company markets “several products in the category of mitochondrial support, including, principally, QH, which is reduced CoQ10, and PQQ.” He says the category can also include energy substrate, such as medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil; vitamin cofactors for mitochondrial energy (B vitamins); and energy-balance products for brain and neuron health. However, he adds, “CoQ10 is always an important place to start.”
“CoQ10 is one of the most important nutrients known for mitochondrial function in aging individuals,” Bowman says. The substance is a critical electron carrier necessary for aerobic metabolism, he adds, “as it oscillates between its oxidized form, ubiquinone, and reduced form, ubiquinol. This mitochondrial metabolism provides the efficient breakdown of fat and carbohydrate into working energy, in the form of ATP, for cells.”
Bowman contends that those with illnesses or who are taking prescribed drugs, including cholesterol-lowering statins, can especially benefit from CoQ10 supplementation. Additionally, he says, as people age, their CoQ10 decreases, resulting in reduced energy available for the body, including in the muscles, heart, and brain. Bowman adds that Jarrow’s QH-absorb product is clinically shown in humans to enhance CoQ10 levels by 215% at 100 mg per day, and 777% at 300 mg per day over baseline levels.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is “an extremely important cofactor in human metabolism,” says Jarrow’s Bowman. Studied extensively for the past 40 years, PQQ at one time gained significant support for being considered a vitamin, and, says Bowman, “recent research should again pique interest in PQQ. Earlier research showed that cultures containing PQQ demonstrated improved generation of mitochondria (mitochondrial biogenesis). Some PQQ researchers suggested that this might be due to the antioxidant activity of PQQ. However, newer studies have brought to light a more important mechanism of mitochondrial biogenesis by PQQ.”
A recent study1 published in Scientific Reports in 2016 by Akagawa and colleagues identified lactate dehydrogenase-A (LDH-A) as a PQQ-binding protein, Bowman describes. LDH is important for energy metabolism because it “regulates the substrates (pyruvate and lactate) at the beginning of the fork to aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism.” Akagawa et al demonstrated that PQQ increased concentrations of pyruvate through LDH activity, which resulted in enhanced mitochondrial biogenesis and basal respiratory rate. Additionally, LDH is a reliable biomarker of athletic endurance and recovery, Bowman says, since LDH increases in response to endurance training.2 This research, then, “places PQQ as a vital supplement for mitochondrial health.”
Bowman also points to a clinical trial3 on supplementation with PQQ in 2016 that evaluated brain functions in aged persons. This study found that subjects supplemented with PQQ preserved better cognitive functions, particularly in attention and working memory. This clinical research supports the idea that PQQ and mitochondrial function and adaptation are necessary for healthy neurons in the brain, and further substantiates the role of PQQ in cognitive function, he says.
Additional Ingredients for Mitochondrial Support
Evolva’s Tetzlaf points to resveratrol supplementation as one of many valuable tools for mitochondrial support. “Resveratrol activates sirtuin 1 [SIRT1],” he explains, “which is involved in modulating beneficial effects on cellular processes, such as mitochondrial biogenesis.”
Indeed, a study4 published in 2011 in Pharmacological Reviews states that “the wealth of new data on SIRT1...has recently spontaneously refocused the attention of the field from a potential-but so far not clearly proven-role in increasing lifespan toward its ability to modulate whole body metabolism...SIRT1 activation enhances the ability of organisms to enhance fat consumption and use mitochondrial respiration as a way to optimize energy harvesting. Metabolic disease has been strongly linked to impaired energy homeostasis and mitochondrial function. Therefore, manipulations aimed to enhance SIRT1 activity might turn out to be attractive for the prevention and treatment of metabolic disease.”
Jarrow’s Bowman says, “There are actually too many mitochondrial supplements to describe fully in one article,” but adds that a few deserve “special mention,” including B vitamins, L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and taurine.
“B vitamins are involved in releasing the energy derived from foods by directing that energy into mitochondrial metabolism,” Bowman says, while L-carnitine functions as a fatty-acid transporter of fat into mitochondria. Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant, sulfur-containing thiol cofactor that helps to repair and maintain the blood-brain barrier, Bowman explains. “The substance is utilized in mitochondria via redox reactions at the initial conversion of pyruvate into acetyl CoA [coenzyme A] before entry into the Krebs cycle,” Bowman says. (The Krebs cycle, as a reminder, is a sequence of reactions by which most living cells generate energy during the process of aerobic respiration. It takes place in the mitochondria.)
And finally, taurine is a beta-amino acid found throughout the human body, but especially in highly metabolically active organs, including the brain and heart. “Of the cells’ ions,” Bowman says, “taurine is especially useful in regulating intracellular calcium concentrations. It also regulates sulfur metabolism and is a bile salt conjugate.” Bowman classifies taurine as a mitochondrial-support ingredient. He warns, however, that the taurine added to some commercially available energy drinks is also frequently accompanied by large amounts of sugar.