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What is a Mitochondrion?

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Highlights

If you’re like most of us, it’s been a while since your last biology course. Even though we make decisions that affect our own biology every day like what we eat, whether or not we exercise, and how we manage stress, our minds aren’t usually focused on what’s going on inside our cells. 

Each part of our body is made up of cells, and the decisions we make about our diet and physical activity (to name just a few) impact our cells directly. In terms of getting older, the entire process plays out inside your cells. 

Together, we’ll hack into our cells and discover what gives them their energy, what causes their energy to wane, and how it all impacts our health and aging. 

To do this, we’ll take a closer look at one of the most important parts of the human cell, the mitochondrion. 

Cells at a Glance

Cell biology is the complex and detailed study of what makes our cells function. Cells make up the tissues that make up organs that make up systems, so making sure our cells are working properly is arguably the most important aspect of our total wellness. 

Inside the cells, structures called organelles (which literally means “little organs”) carry out cellular processes. 

The organelles have four main functions inside your cells:

  1. Support. Certain organelles, like the cytoskeleton and cytoplasm give your cells structure and maintain their shape.

  2. Balance. Cellular homeostasis is regulated by organelles like the vacuole, which moves wastewater out of the cell, and lysosomes, which digest broken down cell parts.

  3. Growth. New molecules are required to keep the cell healthy. Ribosomes make proteins to help synthesize energy and the nucleus houses DNA necessary for cellular regeneration. 

  4. Energy. Cells need energy to carry out the first three processes that keep them functioning properly. The mitochondria are the organelles within your cells that create cellular energy.

All organelles are necessary for cellular function, but mitochondria are vital for ensuring the chain reaction of cellular processes. Without the powerful mitochondria, your cells undergo a power outage. 

Remember your third grade science class, where you learned that the mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell?

Mitochondrion

The mitochondrion is an incredibly important organelle responsible for producing cellular energy. The mitochondrion consists of an inner mitochondrial membrane, outer mitochondrial membrane, and cristae (or intermembrane space). 

The outer membrane and inner membranes contain mitochondrial proteins and lipids, and the proteins of the inner membrane carry out functions of the electron transport chain. 

Most cells have more than one mitochondrion. Simple cells may have only two mitochondria, but cells that require more energy, like a muscle cell, may have thousands of mitochondria. 

Mitochondria are responsible for conversion of cellular energy, supporting cellular metabolism and cellular respiration, facilitating the citric acid cycle, producing cellular heat, regulating calcium levels and oxygen consumption, and even producing certain hormones. 

Creating Cellular Energy

The process of making energy involves the creation of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. Your cells take in carbohydrates. The mitochondria convert glucose which is then used in the process of making cellular energy, or ATP. Your mitochondrial matrix is where ATP is made. 

Mitochondria take the glucose from the carbohydrates you eat, combine them with oxygen and water, and produce ATP. They use enzymes to ensure this chemical process is successful. The ATP is then delivered to other organelles for use in carrying out other cellular functions. 

Cellular Metabolism

Cellular metabolism refers to the entirety of the chemical reactions that take place in your cells. This includes creation of energy, synthesizing proteins, and the breakdown and removal of unused cellular parts. Mitochondria play several roles in cellular metabolism, the most obvious of which is creating ATP for energy.  

Citric Acid Cycle

The citric acid cycle, or Krebs Cycle, is the process by which your cells convert the food you eat into energy, and it’s the first step of aerobic respiration — it’s where all that oxygen you breathe gets used up, and where all that carbon dioxide your breathe out comes from.

Production of Heat

Your mitochondria keep your cell temperature and your body temperature regulated by releasing heat. Heat is released at the end of ATP production, along with carbon dioxide and water. These are essentially the waste products of energy creation. 

Calcium Regulation

Your cells rely on the mineral calcium to help signal cellular transactions. Calcium is collected in the mitochondria and released to signal cellular processes as needed. Calcium helps regulate cellular processes, so it is essential that your mitochondria are efficient in calcium signaling. 

Hormone Production

Cells in the adrenal gland produce pregnenolone. This is a hormone that is a precursor to testosterone, progesterone, cortisol, estrogen, and various other hormones. Pregnenolone is used inside your cells as a starting point for the creation of these hormones, and your mitochondria play a role in the production and regulation of pregnenolone. 

What Else Can Mitochondria Do?

Mitochondria are essential in determining our cellular health. They are so specifically detailed and important, they even have their own specific DNA that is separate from the cellular DNA stored in the nucleus of the cell. 

Even more interesting, they have their own set of organelles that help them carry out energy production. Mitochondria have their own ribosomes which make proteins for them to use in enzyme processes. 

If a cell needs more mitochondria, the existing mitochondria will grow and divide quickly. When additional mitochondria are no longer needed, they “self-destruct.” 

Mitochondria are also the original shapeshifters, and can move and reposition themselves inside the cell as needed. 

We’ll admit, we’re nerding out a little on mitochondrial facts. And why wouldn’t we? After all, the study of mitochondria has taught us a valuable secret about aging, so you’ll probably be nerding out too by the end of this article.  

What Happens to Mitochondria As We Age?

Aging happens in our cells, but the aging in our cells isn’t chronological, it’s biological. 

Biological aging can be completely different (and sometimes make us much older)  than our chronological age.

As cells age, two important structures in the cell lose function: 

  • Cell membranes. Cell membranes, which should be sturdy, help to keep the cell’s structure rigid and protect the cells from external stressors. As we age, they get flimsy and thin. Your cells become vulnerable and more likely to undergo oxidative stress.
  • Mitochondria. The aging cell is also home to sluggish mitochondria. As mitochondrial function declines, we can experience a chain reaction of age-related illness including chronic inflammation, diabetes, disease, cellular senescence (the point at which your cells stop working completely), and even tissue and organ failure, all because our cells become less efficient in one of their main functions. 

If we want to give our bodies a fighting chance against aging, we have to start by protecting the vitality of the mitochondria and small molecules in our cells. 

How To Protect Mitochondria

Much of how we protect our mitochondria is based on lifestyle choices. Although we inherit our mitochondrial DNA from our mothers, we can’t blame Mom for poor lifestyle choices that cause our mitochondria to decline before they should. 

Here are four tips for protecting your mitochondria.

  1. Eat well. Ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet with the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients is essential in protecting your health and keeping your mitochondria functioning properly. All those antioxidants you always hear about have a starring role in protecting your cells from oxidative stress. 

  2. Exercise. Exercise, especially strength training, helps your mitochondria produce energy (ATP) more effectively.  

  3. Avoid toxins. No one goes out specifically searching for toxins, but some of our lifestyle choices can expose us to harmful substances, oxidative damage, and toxins without our realizing it. Toxins act like poison in our bodies, and because the mitochondria is the home of metabolic function, it is especially susceptible to toxin interference. 

  4. Take pentadecanoic acid. Yes, you can support your mitochondrial health with a single supplement. Pentadecanoic acid is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that research shows is the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered in over 90 years. It helps protect your mitochondria, and your cells, and thus — your whole body health. 

Pentadecanoic Acid and Your Cells

Cells that are aging need a rescue, and pentadecanoic acid is the lifeboat. This healthy fat, also known as C15:0, supports your cells in two impactful ways (look familiar?).

  1. Cell membranes. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that goes into cell membranes, strengthening them, keeping them sturdy and helping to protect the cell from external stressors. 

  2. Mitochondrial support. C15:0 has been scientifically proven to increase mitochondrial function in your cells by up to 45%. That’s some serious cellular fire-power. 

C15:0 also helps balance functions like immunity, sleep, mood, and even appetite. By activating special receptors that control these functions in your body called PPARs, C15:0 helps rejuvenate the daily functions that need the most backup as you age. 

C15:0 is found in whole-fat dairy products, fish, and even some plants. Increasing your milk fat intake or trying to eat sushi every night isn’t the best idea — you’d end up consuming some undesirable, even-chain saturated fats that aren’t beneficial to your health, not to mention the sugars and calories that would come from trying to pack in a punch of dense foods. 

The solution? Fatty15.  

Fatty15 For Mitochondrial Health

Fatty15 is the first and only supplement that contains just FA15™, the pure, vegan-friendly version of C15:0. Just one capsule a day provides your cells the support they need to age healthfully. 

With fatty15, you can give your mitochondria the kickstart they need and quite literally help reverse aging at the cellular level.. 

Total health and wellness starts in your cells, with better lifestyle choices and the support of mitochondria-friendly fatty15. 

Get started with fatty15 today and see how improving your cellular health can help you age smarter and feel healthier.


Sources:

Mitochondria|Genome.gov 

Definition of cellular metabolism - NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms 

The multifaceted contributions of mitochondria to cellular metabolism | Nature Cell Biology 

What Is Aerobic vs. Anaerobic in Biology?|Education.Seattle PI 

Calcium signalling: dynamics, homeostasis and remodelling | Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 

Pregnenolone: What You Need to Know | USADA 

The Mitochondrial Basis of Aging|NCBI 

Mitochondria—Fundamental to Life and Health|NCBI 

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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