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The Energy Bunny in Me
We need to take care of the 'power plants' in the body, the mitochondria, in order to stay as active as we can as we age.
THE human body is made up of trillions of cells. How you feel and function depends on how all these trillions of cells feel and function. To stay healthy each of the trillions of cells in the body must produce its own energy - cells cannot borrow energy from each other. In the cell, energy is created by microscopic structures called mitochondria. "Mitochondria are the power plants of our cells," says Simon Melov, director of the Genomics Core at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, California. "They convert food into energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which the body uses to live."
For the cells to convert food to energy, it requires a vitamin-like substance called Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Without CoQ10 our body will not be able to make energy, without energy there is no life; without well-functioning mitochondria, there is (almost) no energy.
Most cells in the human body contain somewhere between 500 to 2,000 mitochondria. In fact, mitochondria account for as much as 60% of the volume of muscle cells and 45% of the volume of heart cells.
Mitochondria are unusual among the structures within cells because they have their own genes - their own DNA. (All other DNA is found inside the cell's nucleus.) And mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is more likely to get damaged in the course of everyday living.
"Mitochondria are linked to almost every essential process in cells," says Rafael de Cabo, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore. "That explains why you can trace almost any condition that has to do with energy balance - like diabetes or sarcopenia, which is muscle wasting with age - at least in part, to problems with mitochondria."
Defects in mitochondrial function
Since mitochondria dysfunction was first described in the 1960s, medicine has advanced in its understanding of the role mitochondria play in health, disease and ageing. Mitochondrial damage has also been implicated as a major contributor to the ageing process.
Some researchers speculate that, over a lifetime, damage to the mitochondria may be the ultimate cause of ageing. "The belief is that as we age, these mitochondrial mutations accumulate and the mitochondria slow down in all our tissues," says Gerald Shulman, professor of medicine and cellular & molecular physiology at Yale University.
"Mitochondria have been called the Achilles' heel of the cell in ageing," adds lifespan researcher Tory Hagen of the Linus Pauling Institute in Corvallis, Oregon.
Damaged mitochondria can also lead to disease. In fact, more than 200 inherited diseases have been associated with impaired mitochondrial function, including many of the most common diseases of ageing such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Every time mitochondria make energy, they also produce free radicals, which are very destructive and must be eliminated (neutralised) before they can do harm. These free radicals, if not neutralised, can cause terrible damage to every part of the mitochondria, including its membranes and DNA.
The mitochondrial membranes are the key to energy production. If the membranes are damaged, less energy is produced and toxins build up, which will ultimately damage the cell, and if enough cells are damaged, this will interfere with the function of the organ.
To prevent free radical damage, cells recruit a set of antioxidants. A combination of Alpha Lipoic Acid, Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and CoQ10 can help reduce mitochondrial damage by free radicals and also, take care of mitochondrial function.
"It's possible that weakened mitochondria leave people more susceptible to Parkinson's disease or accelerates the progression of Alzheimer's disease," notes Mark Mattson, chief of the Cellular and Molecular Neurosciences Section of the National Institute on Aging. Can you protect - or restore - your mitochondria?
A synergistic combination for maintaining healthy mitochondria and optimum energy levels is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) and Alpha Lipoic Acid.
CoQ10 is a vital ingredient in energy production. As we grow older, our body produces less CoQ10 and that's when our energy-producing system starts to slow down. We find our brains no longer sharp, our hearts do not beat as efficiently and we easily tire out.
Low levels of CoQ10 affect every aspect of life; it also affects health, which brings on diseases and speed up ageing. It is not surprising that scientists have regarded the body's energy-producing system as the most basic system. It is also the master energy system that runs all our body's functions - circulatory system, immune system, endocrine system and everything else that keeps us alive.
Yet this most important system has largely been ignored, and the result has wrought havoc on the lives of almost everyone that has passed the age of 30.
What leads to CoQ10 deficiency. There are many causes, and these include:
- Diet CoQ10 is produced by every cell of the body. The manufacturing of CoQ10 is a 17-step process that requires at least eight vitamins, several trace minerals and the amino acid tyrosine. A deficiency in any one of the nutrients due to poor dietary intake can hinder the body's production of CoQ10.
- Ageing The body's CoQ10 level peaks at age 20 and thereafter starts to decline, and the accelerated drop is seen after 40. At age 40, your body has 40% less CoQ10 than when you were 20 and at age 70, you end up with 60% less.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is a natural constituent of the inner mitochondrial membrane, especially in heart, brain, and muscle. Hence, to maintain optimal heart health, cognitive and memory function, we need to ensure we have sufficient ALCAR in our body.
Since the levels of ALCAR decline with age, supplementation of ALCAR is vital as it also helps restore mitochondrial function.
Another very important facet of ALCAR is its ability to burn fatty acids (fats) for energy. ALCAR is involved in the transportation of long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria for conversion of energy. Heart function is affected because the heart becomes starved of its major fuel source, fats. If you take ALCAR, you improve the transportation and more fatty acids can be taken into the mitochondria to be utilised more efficiently to support heart function.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant which helps to neutralise free radicals generated as by-products of energy production. Studies have found that using ALA will dramatically lower oxidative stress, (free radical damage) in the heart. If you lower oxidative stress, you decrease damage to the mitochondria. Therefore supplemental ALA helps to protect mitochondria from free radical damage.
The combination of ALA and ALCAR helps improve memory and cognitive (thinking) performance in older adults. Again it involves the mitochondria.
There is evidence that the mitochondria in the brain are very important in memory and cognitive functions because of their energy production and effects on free radical damage. Mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with many senile dementias such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Both ALA and ALCAR cross the blood brain barrier and therefore would benefit the brain.
Although ALA and ALCAR work differently, together they take care of the oxidative stress and decline in energy production that occurs with age, thereby allowing the heart and brain to function better.
Everyone can benefit from taking this combination. People in their 40s or even younger could experience significant beneficial effects. The most common reported benefits are increased energy throughout the day, and greater mental alertness.
If you are already taking supplemental hydrosoluble Coenzyme Q10 daily, don't just stop there. Consider taking ALCAR (Acetyl L-Carnitine) together with ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid). This synergistic combination will help to prevent mitochondrial damage and boost energy production.
Mitochondrial damage and impaired mitochondrial function in energy production have been linked to many diseases. Therefore, taking good care of the mitochondria can help keep your cells, organs and your body healthy into your later years.