What Damages Your Mitochondria? (And How Fixing Them Boosts Energy)

What Damages Your Mitochondria? (And How Fixing Them Boosts Energy)
  • A large percentage of your energy — about 90% — is produced by your mitochondria.
  • Most cells in your body contain mitochondria — hundreds or thousands of them.
  • Mitochondria create energy through complex chemical reactions, including the electron transport chain and the Krebs cycle.
  • How well your mitochondria function determines your level of energy.
  • Mitochondrial damage and loss come from five significant factors, including pathogens, parasites, heavy metals, medications, and severe oxidative stress.
  • You can support and supercharge your mitochondria by upregulating them with electrolytes, staying well hydrated, and supercharging with carbon-driven nutrients.

Lack of energy is a common concern, but maybe not for the obvious reasons.

Factors like poor sleep, unhealthy eating habits, and stress undoubtedly can steal your energy. Health challenges like a sluggish thyroid and chronic illness can zap your vitality as well.

Still — maybe there’s a much deeper issue at play. About 90% of your energy is generated by tiny cellular structures called mitochondria. (1)

Once you know more about these little energy factories, you’ll see how powerful they are. Still, they’re vulnerable to damage and dysfunction.

Hidden problems like infections and toxins can damage your mitochondria and disrupt their function. This can drain your energy and make you feel like you’re stuck on a slow, plodding merry-go-round.

Your mitochondria help energize you and promote healing, as you’ll soon see. Plus, we’ll discuss five factors that can disrupt mitochondrial performance and what you can do to supercharge them.

Meet Your Mighty Mitochondria

Eating well is foundational to your health. Still, to get energy, your body must be able to use the nutrients you take in. Your mitochondria are largely responsible for turning the food you eat into a form your cells can use.

These beautiful, biological batteries power nearly everything you do. If they aren’t fully “charged,” or you don’t have enough of them, every bodily process may suffer.

A single cell in your body may contain hundreds or thousands of mitochondria. They’re often shown as capsule-shaped structures, but they are constantly morphing. They can also fuse together to form a network. (2)

Mitochondria even have their own DNA, separate from the rest of your cells. They can replicate without your cells dividing.

Your cells have differing numbers of mitochondria based on their particular energy needs. Cells that require a lot of energy to function need more mitochondria.

It’s challenging to get a precise count of how many mitochondria are in a given cell. Here’s a general idea of how many mitochondria you might find in different types of cells: (3)

  • Eyes, brain, and heart: Around 10,000 per cell
  • Liver: Around 2,000 per cell
  • Red blood cells: None. They primarily get their energy from glucose, a sugar.

So, what happens if a particular cell should have around 2,000 mitochondria, but it only has half that? At this point you’re probably not beginning to become chronically ill — you likely already are.

Your Mitochondria in Action

Your Mitochondria in Action

To understand the basics of how your mitochondria work, it helps to know a little bit about their structure.

Two membranes surround your mitochondria. The outer membrane is like a traffic cop. It monitors what reaches the inner membrane.

The inner membrane is even more selective in what it lets pass through. It allows the entry of nutrients it can use to make energy, as well as oxygen needed for this process.

If you viewed the inner membrane under a microscope, you'd see it's folded like an accordion. The folds are called cristae and give it a larger surface area. That means more workspace.

It’s in these cristae where the magic happens — where most of your energy is generated. This is the site of a series of complex chemical reactions called the electron transport chain, which generates a lot of energy.

Your mitochondria also produce a small amount of energy via a process called the Krebs cycle. This process supplies precursors needed for the electron transport chain.

The energy that the reactions in the mitochondria yield is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It’s in a chemical form your cells can use. You need a constant supply of ATP to survive.

But, you want to do more than survive — you want to thrive. How well your mitochondria are functioning determines your level of energy.

You should also note that energy production is just part of what your mitochondria do for you. On a cellular level, you also need enough well-functioning mitochondria so your body can: (4, 5, 6)

  • Produce pure water for your cells (a byproduct of energy production)
  • Upregulate detoxification
  • Stimulate death (apoptosis) of damaged cells to prevent mutations that lead to serious health issues
  • Fight pathogens and infections
  • Carry out cell signaling, which is vital for immune function and cell death
  • Produce heat
  • Repair DNA

Clearly, a shortfall of mitochondria could have effects well beyond low energy. Toxins can pile up, immune system health declines, cell repair decreases, and chronic disease may begin.

5 Causes of Mitochondria Damage and Loss

Having plenty of well-functioning mitochondria is a non-negotiable when it comes to your health. Several underlying issues can affect how many mitochondria you have and how well they work.

As you age, you lose mitochondria. Plus, the ones that remain don’t work as well. You can’t entirely prevent this, but a healthy lifestyle may help.

Besides aging, five other significant factors that can reduce your mitochondria number and function include: (7)

  • Pathogens
  • Parasites
  • Heavy metals
  • Medications
  • Severe oxidative stress

Here’s a closer look at these mitochondrial menaces.

1. Pathogens

Pathogens interfere with the calcium in your mitochondria so they can survive and spread. For example, the herpes simplex type 1 (which causes cold sores) can decrease your mitochondrial intake of calcium by 65% in 12 hours. This helps it replicate. (8)

A significant drop in calcium is a problem because your cells need it to help control what nutrients enter your mitochondria to be turned into ATP. Additionally, calcium is required to upregulate mitochondrial function to generate more energy. (9)

Calcium is also crucial for turning ammonia — a toxic byproduct of amino acid metabolism — into urea so it can be excreted through your kidneys. If you can’t neutralize such toxins, they will damage your mitochondria.

Pathogens can also interfere with the ability of your cells to control free radical damage. Ironically, producing ATP creates unstable, damaging molecules called free radicals. Under normal conditions, your cells have a variety of mechanisms to keep this in check.

But, some trigger increased free radical production. Your mitochondria can no longer keep them under control. This increases the permeability of your mitochondrial membranes and may cause them to burst open.

Pathogens can even change where mitochondria are located within your cells. They can: (8)

  • Pull mitochondria toward where they're replicating. This helps pathogens siphon off energy for themselves.
  • “Fence off” mitochondria so they can’t release proteins that would trigger cell death. This gives a pathogen more time to replicate.

In short, pathogens are no friend to your mitochondria or your energy levels. They drain or reallocate power from the “batteries” in your cells, creating an energy shortage.

2. Parasites

Parasites change the environment in your body so they can stay and replicate — but at a significant cost to you.

To more easily survive, parasites may: (10, 11)

  • Disrupt cell cycles and prevent normal death (apoptosis) of your cells
  • Suppress your immune system, so they go unrecognized
  • Use the energy your mitochondria produce while they replicate in your cells

For example, a test-tube study suggests that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii may start to use your mitochondria for energy within 10 minutes of entering a cell. This is a common parasite transmitted through contaminated water and undercooked meat. (10)

Studies have also found that cells infected with parasites tend to have more free radicals. These may damage your mitochondria as well. (12)

Parasites are like bad neighbors who steal your Wi-Fi and use your faucet to water their lawn. They rob you of your resources to suit their needs and leave you with the bill.

3. Heavy metals

You already know that heavy metals are toxic to your system. But, what effect do they have on your mitochondria? Unfortunately, they can significantly harm both the structure and function of your precious biological batteries.

Remember the accordion-like folds or cristae in your inner mitochondrial membranes? Heavy metals like arsenic and mercury reduce the number of cristae. This decreases the amount of energy your mitochondria can generate. (13)

Heavy metals also may: (13, 14, 15)

  • Spike the production of free radicals in your mitochondria
  • Increase the permeability of mitochondrial membranes, leading to cellular toxicity
  • Interfere with the synthesis of proteins your mitochondria need to function
  • Break down lipids (fats) that are part of mitochondrial membranes

Heavy metals do more than deplete your batteries. They destroy them in a way that’s beyond repair.

When a cell is overwhelmed by all these issues, it dies. At the same time, this cell death outpaces your body’s ability to build new, well-functioning cells. This is because the source of the dysfunction is still at large. (13)

4. Medications


Prescription and over-the-counter drugs often come with unwanted side effects. One reason why is that many of them inhibit your mitochondrial functioning. The pills you're taking to get well could be pulling the plug on your energy factories. (16)

More specifically, medications can interfere with the electron transport chain in your mitochondria and reduce their ability to make ATP.

Another reason for this interference is that some drugs create a deficiency of carnitine. This compound helps transport certain fatty acids into your mitochondria to be turned into energy. Carnitine also helps carry toxins out of your mitochondria so they can be eliminated. (17, 18)

Chances are, you’ve taken some of the medicines that disrupt mitochondrial function. They include common ones like: (16, 19)

  • Antibiotics
  • Painkillers, including acetaminophen
  • Statin medications for cholesterol lowering
  • Mental health drugs, such as antidepressants and mood stabilizers

These often-used therapies can have a high, hidden energy cost that you weren’t counting on.

Some medications can also cause free radical damage. The destruction may reach a tipping point. Suddenly a new health issue, such as liver dysfunction, may appear. In truth, it may have been slowly developing with each dose. (20, 21)

5. Severe oxidative stress

The four mitochondrial menaces mentioned above have one thing in common — they can cause severe oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals that steal electrons from molecules within your cells to become stable. When a molecule loses an electron, it becomes unstable and engages in the same destructive behavior.

This process triggers an electron stealing spree that can damage the DNA in your cells, including in the mitochondria. Over time, this damage builds up. When cells are so damaged they can no longer function, they die.

Though parasites, pathogens, heavy metals, and medications are significant sources of oxidative stress, you may also need to address several others.

Some common triggers of oxidative stress include: (7, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27)

  • Pro-inflammatory and processed foods
  • An unhealthy microbiome
  • Plastics and phthalates
  • Pesticides
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Chronic psychological stress
  • Radioactive elements
  • Chemical cleaners, chlorine, and deodorizers
  • Alcohol
  • High blood sugar levels
  • Mold toxins (mycotoxins)
  • Lyme disease

Inflammatory molecules released by your immune cells in response to toxins strain your mitochondria. This increases oxidative stress and triggers their destruction, which further increases inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle that’s tough to break. (28)

Supercharge Your Mitochondria

Supercharge Your Mitochondria

Now that you know that factors like parasites and heavy metals can harm your mitochondria, you may want to attack them head-on. After all, you’re ready to get off the low energy merry-go-round.

But, what if that approach is putting the cart before the horse?

You need energy to get rid of the parasites, toxins, and heavy metals that are sabotaging your cellular power plants.

So first, you must prepare your body through mitochondrial support. This includes supplying them with electrolytes and pure water. Here’s a closer look at why these are so important.

Electrolytes and mitochondrial function

One way to upregulate mitochondrial function is with electrolytes. These carry both positive and negative charges via protons and electrons, respectively.

Electrolytes charge the membranes of your cells and mitochondria so more nutrients can be transported in to make ATP. They also increase the amount of metabolic waste products and toxins that can be shipped out of your cells.

All electrolytes are not created equal. They come in two forms:

  • Salt: This is what’s found in sports drinks.
  • Carbon: These are derived from decomposed plant material.

While salt electrolytes have their place, they don’t hold a candle to carbon electrolytes. Carbon electrolytes are polyelectrolytes, meaning they contain many electrolytes.

Carbon polyelectrolytes act as conductors of electricity and allow electrons to move locations. This increases the efficiency of the electron transport chain in your mitochondria, which generates most of your ATP.

The polyelectrolytes can also donate or receive protons to maintain pH balance, which is essential for ATP production.

Additionally, the polyelectrolytes control how much water is in cells and help oxygenate your cells. Your mitochondria need water and oxygen to make ATP efficiently.

That's not all these impressive carbon polyelectrolytes do.

They can also give away electrons to deter free radicals from attacking your cells. This calms the oxidative stress that interferes with mitochondrial function and ATP production.

Getting polyelectrolytes

Where can you get polyelectrolytes? You may get a small amount by eating vegetables and other plant-based foods. However, because food is often grown in nutrient-depleted soil, you can’t really count on this as a significant source. That's where carbon-driven nutrients come in.

For example, your mitochondria require bioavailable copper to form two enzymes involved in ATP production. Carbon-driven nutrients give your mitochondria the right form of copper and provide the electrical charge needed to utilize it fully. (29)

Carbon-driven nutrients may also help correct other mineral deficiencies that can affect mitochondrial function, including zinc, magnesium, and manganese. (30)

Along with carbon-driven nutrients, binders can help remove unwanted compounds. They bind or chelate heavy metals and other toxins so you can eliminate them via your urine and stools.

This triple action of nourishing, charging, and cleaning up helps your mitochondria run at full steam.

Pure water and mitochondrial function

A natural byproduct of ATP creation is water. This may not sound like a big deal, but the water your body produces is pure.

In contrast, tap water generally contains germ-killing chemicals like chlorine. Such chemical toxins can create oxidative stress and damage your mitochondria. (31)

The pure water from ATP creation hydrates you and helps optimize the functioning of your mitochondria. The chemical reactions needed to create energy occur in the presence of water.

Something as seemingly simple as being chronically dehydrated can reduce mitochondrial output.

As you improve your energy metabolism, you'll also increase your ability to detox. Metabolic wastes and toxins will be more readily ushered out with this good water supply.

Powered for Health and Energy

The real source of lagging energy and persistent health issues can run deep. Overcoming oxidative stress with mitochondrial support is the foundation of a healthy body.

Once your biological batteries are charged, you’ll be ready to tackle the factors pilfering your power supply.

Your body will be prepared to:

  • Remove toxins, heavy metals, parasites, and other pathogens
  • Rebuild your damaged tissues and immune system
  • Restore your body’s ability to recover from chronic health issues

You’ll finally be able to get off the low energy merry-go-round.

How would mitochondrial support change your life?