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Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Aging

by | anti-aging, exercise, high fat diet, low carb eating | 2 comments

biology-1293878_640I am in the process of writing another book and it is for men who are approaching middle age. It is filled with diet and exercise tips for the middle-aged man to build a fit, injury free body through the mid stages of his life and into his sixties and seventies. I am calling it “buff after 40″…or maybe 50. I haven’t quite decided yet. In any event, I am doing some research into the latest information available about how to slow down the aging process to see if there are some easy to implement, sound advice we can do to live a little longer with a high quality of life.

Presently, there are no therapies available to stop or reverse aging, but that may change in the next few decades. Aubrey de Grey, who is a biomedical gerontologist, mathematician, author and lecturer is leading the charge in making humans immortal. He feels that drugs, gene therapy, and nanotechnology holds promise to literally stop the aging process. No doubt the possibility of never getting old has both moral and ethical implications that we collectively will be debating for the years to come. It is certainly an exciting thought. I, for one, will be interested to see how this shapes up.

Back to the main point of this blog. I did find some valuable information on strategies that we can implement to potentially increase life span, and more importantly, the quality of life as get older. A very important factor that can speed up the aging process is mitochondrial dysfunction.

What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are organelles that are part of a cell, and interestingly, they have their own genome that is not related to the cells they are part of but that resemble bacteria. This implies that mitochondria may not have originally been part of the host. There are two competing theories as to how mitochondria came to be part of us, and you can explore that here. What’s important is to understand is what mitochondria actually do and how important they are to our very survival.

Mitochondria are parts of the cell that turns everything we eat…carbs, protein and fat into chemical energy for us to keep on living. Up to 90% of the energy we need to live are produced by mitochondria. All of the body’s functions depend on this: muscular contraction (and relaxation), cellular regeneration, enzymatic processes and so on require energy…energy that is produced by mitochondria. Clearly, we need healthy mitochondria to literally live.

Another very important function of mitochondria is cell apoptosis. Apoptosis is programmed cell death. It sounds like apoptosis may be a bad thing, but is not. We need cells to die…if they become damaged. If the damaged cells are not cleaned up, they will grow uncontrollably. It is these damaged and growing cells that are cancerous. According to Dr. Lee Know, dysfunctional mitochondria, because they no longer are capable of cleaning up damaged cells, are the basis of what we know as cancer.

Promote Healthy Mitochondria

Do we know what we can do to promote healthy and thriving mitochondria? Science has figured out a few things:

  • Exercise. Especially high intensity interval exercise (hiit). Exercise has been shown to up-regulate the genes that make the mitochondria more efficient. Moreover, exercise makes the mitochondria divide and create even more mitochondria. Each mitochondria will be under less overall stress, thus better able to handle the workloadHigh intensity interval exercise has shown to be even more effective at producing such results. For example, one study divided volunteers into three different groups: one group did high intensity interval training on a bike. Another group did a general strength training routine, and the third group did a combination of strength training and interval training. They found that the strength training group increased strength and muscle mass (no surprise there), but the researchers also found that the high intensity interval training group saw anywhere from a 49% to 69% increase in mitochondrial capacity. The researchers commented that it is a toss-up about what would be better for slowing down the aging process, for having both increased strength and mitochondrial capacity are very important….and I agree. Both are just as important. I do believe that you can combine both strength training and high intensity interval training in one workout and gain the benefits of both. Arthur Jones and Dr. Ellington Darden promoted this style of training for over 70 years. I certainly noticed a remarkable difference when I started training the way they recommended. Not only was I getting stronger, I felt it working in a rejuvenating way that I never experienced from any other form of exercise. High intensity interval training came much later, and the basic principles of training very hard with brief rest intervals are what the researchers are finding of great value (incidentally, that is what Arthur Jones would preach to his followers). I created my training program, called Hystrength(sm), with this in mind.
  • Eat a high fat/low carb diet. Research is clarifying that getting away from our ancestral diets are a major cause of mitochondrial dysfunction. High carb, highly processed foods that are loaded with polyunsaturated fats are preventing the body to burn fat as fuel. Fat for fuel is a much cleaner burning energy source which will lower overall free radical damage.
  • Practice intermittent fasting. Cultures worldwide used to practice fasting, mainly for religious purposes. Whether they were aware of it or not, the fasting they practiced had many health benefits as well. Periods of fasting allow the body to reduce insulin levels, thus allowing the body to tap into fat stores for energy. Additionally, fasting lessens the formation of free radicals that can damage the mitochondria. Do understand that the body does need some free radicals to stay healthy. A reasonable dose of free radicals help the body build defenses, and in this case the right amount of free radical stress will up-regulate the production of more mitochondria. We just don’t want too much. Periods of fasting gives the body a break from high levels of free radical formation.
  • Although I am not a fan of supplements, there does seem to be some that may help with optimal mitochondrial function. Here are the main ones:
    • CoQ10
    • L-Carnetine
    • D-Ribose
    • Omega-3 fatty acids

I encourage you to do some personal research to see what works best for you.


We cannot stop the aging process, at least not yet. However we can slow down the biological aging of our bodies by the lifestyle choices we make. Proper mitochondrial functioning can slow down the aging process, and give us plenty of energy to live life to the fullest as we get older.

Exercise, especially high intensity interval training, or the Hystrength (sm) training program, coupled with a diet that is void of processed, high carbohydrate, and industrial fats along with an intermittent fasting protocol, and maybe some supplementation are tools we can put in our tool box, so to say, to live a long and healthy life.


Gregg Hoffman