Do you struggle with a sluggish metabolism? Do you find it’s getting harder and harder to maintain a healthy weight as you get older? Have you been trying for years to lose that last five pounds? You’re not alone.
In my practice, I constantly hear from patients who are facing challenges related to metabolism. Many of them are frustrated by failed attempts to lose weight, and confused about why the things they have been doing aren’t working.
To really understand healthy weight management, we need to zoom in and look at metabolic function on a cellular level. Almost every cell in your body contains mitochondria, specialized structures that act as the power-generating units of the cell.1 Mitochondria fuel our bodies by converting nutrients into energy — they’re sometimes compared to combustion engines. When your mitochondria are working efficiently to burn calories, your metabolism is fast. When mitochondria aren’t functioning optimally, your metabolism slows down.
How efficient your mitochondria are is partially determined by genetics. If type 2 diabetes runs in your family, for example, your mitochondria may be less effective.2 This means you could have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight, and be at risk of developing diabetes yourself. Mitochondria function also naturally slows down as you age, which is one of the reasons many people struggle with weight loss as they get older.
The good news is, there are lots of things you can do to keep your mitochondria — and your metabolism — humming. Here are some of them.
Gut imbalance can negatively affect mitochondria. Probiotic foods like sauerkraut and miso help populate the gut with good bacteria, while prebiotic foods like onions and artichokes feed the beneficial microbes in your gut.
Pesticides, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins may disrupt mitochondrial function. One of the simplest ways to minimize your exposure is to buy organic food whenever possible. I also suggest avoiding plastic water bottles and packaging.
Brightly-hued fruits and vegetables get their color from antioxidants, which protect your cells from damaging free radicals. Try to “eat the rainbow” every day to ensure you’re getting enough antioxidants in your diet.
Although it may be tempting to follow a low-fat diet when trying to lose weight, your mitochondria work best when they’re fueled by healthy fats. Make responsibly-sourced fatty fish like salmon, avocados, nuts, and seeds a part of your diet. Coconut oil is also an excellent source of healthy fat, since it contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that support mitochondrial function.
While some foods improve mitochondrial health, others hinder it. Too much sugar can cause mitochondria to malfunction.3 Try to cut refined sugar and processed carbohydrates, or at least minimize your intake.
Any movement is good for your body, but certain types of exercise are particularly helpful for mitochondrial function. Strength training can build new muscle, increasing the number of mitochondria. And interval training — alternating between periods of high and low intensity — may also lead to more and stronger mitochondria.4
While you sleep, your body is busy refreshing and repairing. Not getting enough rest can cause stress to your mitochondria, negatively affecting their ability to function.5 Aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.
Supplementing with certain nutrients can have a big impact on the health of your mitochondria. A quality multivitamin/multimineral should be able to provide your mitochondria with nutrients that may be lacking from your diet. You may also want to add these to your supplement regimen:
If you suspect mitochondrial dysfunction might be slowing your metabolism, hampering your ability to lose weight, or otherwise affecting your wellbeing, I encourage you to reach out to us at My Pure MD. We offer a service called organic acids testing that assesses how well your mitochondria are functioning. Once we have an idea of where you’re at in terms of mitochondrial health, we can create a personalized plan that will help you achieve your wellness goals.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. It’s amazing to consider the ways you can impact your health at the cellular level just by making changes to your lifestyle! Please contact My Pure MD to ask questions, set up a consultation, or inquire about organic acids testing. My colleagues and I look forward to hearing from you.
1. Johannsen DL, Ravussin E. The role of mitochondria in health and disease. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2009;9(6):780-786.
2. Arner P, et al. Genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes, but not for overweight/obesity, Is associated with a restricted adipogenesis. PLoS One 2011 Apr 12;6(4):e18284.
3. Dassanayaka S, et al. High glucose induces mitochondrial dysfunction independently of protein O-GlcNAcylation. Biochem J. 2015;467(1):115-126.
4. Wu LH, et al. High-intensity interval training improves mitochondrial function and suppresses thrombin generation in platelets undergoing hypoxic stress. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):4191.
5. Zhang J, et al. Effects of long-term sleep deprivation on mitochondria stress in locus coeruleus and the tyrosine hydroxylasic projection in mice. Zhongguo Ying Yong Sheng Li Xue Za Zhi. 2014;30(2):153‐156.