Have you ever heard of mitochondria? Not too many people have unless it is part of what they studied. Last year I told one of my brothers that we all primarily get our mitochondria from our moms and he asked “what the heck is that? It sounds like a disease?” I couldn’t help but laugh because if you’ve never heard this word many ideas of diseases can easily cross your mind.
No need to alarm yourself or rush yourself or your own mom to the doctor’s office for having mitochondria. We all have it, we all need it, and guess what? We get it from our mamas.
What is mitochondria?
Mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA) and in humans mtDNA is responsible for forming necessary substrates for energy production. Mitochondria is basically known as our cells powerhouse. It is highly involved in metabolic pathways which are used by cells to build, break down, and recycle molecular building blocks. Without mitochondria, cells could not make RNA or DNA because it is the rate limiting enzyme for the purines and pyrimidines (building blocks of RNA and DNA) and therefore would not grow and function.
What does it do?
Each organ and therefore each cell within that organ have specific jobs they must do to function properly. Mitochondria make sure these jobs can be done. For example, in the liver they help to detoxify ammonia in the urea cycle. It is responsible for how cholesterol is metabolized, estrogen and testosterone synthesis (the making of), neurotransmitter communication, free radical production and detoxification, and on top of this they are also involved in breaking down macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs)
Mitochondrial related diseases are either inherited or caused by spontaneous mutations (the spontaneity depends on your established risk starting before birth) that alter the function of the mitochondria. When this happens, then the organ or system is affected.
How does it affect my baby’s development?
Remember when I said mitochondria function is highly established by our mom? If there is damage to the mom’s own mitochondria then it can result in passing on mitochondrial and mtDNA mutations to their baby’s very own developing mitochondria and mtDNA. Then the cycle starts over again with their baby’s having mitochondrial dysfunction as well.
What dysfunction looks like?
So what the heck would that actually look like? Remember how I explained all the functions mitochondria are involved in? Then you will not be surprised to know that many mitochondrial diseases affect the brain, heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidney, endocrine and respiratory systems.
Keep in mind it matters how the cells are affected to result in how the diseases and dysfunctions manifest. Symptoms may include motor control, muscle weakness or pain, poor growth, gastrointestinal disorders, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory complications, seizures, developmental delays and susceptibility to infections.
This can be scary because no one talks about taking care of their mitochondria. But in all honesty how could you if you had no idea what it was?
There is good news! Through physical activity and proper nutrition you can protect your own and your developing baby’s mitochondria.
What you can do?
When it comes to physical activity:
Stay active by doing what you enjoy so you are in motion consistently. There is no magic exercise, duration of exercise, or intensity. The results come from being consistent and moving every single day.
When it comes to nutrition:
Eat fruits AND vegetables with deep colors such as red, purple, orange, and green.
Note: If you are allergic to night shade foods stay away from red and purple.
Foods with omega-3 include (but not limited to) grass fed meat and poultry, egg yolks (grass fed have the highest), flax seed, walnuts, and salmon
It may take time to notice a difference but that is because it takes time to create new habits, routines, and make something that is just what you do.
Your mitochondrial Legacy
Passing down healthy vibrant mitochondria as a family legacy is a great way to ensure your baby’s cells know how to function and have the ability to as well.
The benefits are three fold here. First you, then your baby, and then your grandchildren. Yes, your grandchildren are affected as well.
photo courtesy of Gary Carlson/gcarlson.com