Disease, Injury and Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Back in the days of high school biology class, we all learned the components of the cell.  Chances are that most of us have forgotten what we learned back then and that is okay, but in today’s medical society this knowledge is becoming important whether it is our health or that of our pets and horses.

Mitochondria and Energy
One of the most important components of the cell is the mitochondria, which the name may ring a bell.  The mitochondria has been termed the “Power House of the Cell” because it is the main source of energy production in the form of ATP.  Every cell in the body, with the exception of the red blood cell, has a mitochondria and actually, the number of mitochondria contained in a given cell varies dependent on the type of cell we are talking about.  Some have more and some have fewer, it is really dependent on the nature of the cell and energy output required.  Muscle and nervous tissue require more energy and thus usually have more mitochondria per cell.


The mitochondria is also involved in many other aspects of cellular function, including cell signaling, cellular differentiation as well as cell growth.  Most of these aspects or jobs are dependent on the presence of energy or ATP and when that is impacted, they cannot perform their other jobs.

The process of energy or ATP production within the mitochondria is complicated but is essentially dependent on the shifting of protons across membranes and the creation of a proton gradient.  This process depends on the presence of many enzymes, co-factors and nutrients to function smoothly.  One main component needed is oxygen as well as glucose.  The process of energy production in the presence of oxygen is termed cellular aerobic respiration.  If oxygen is not present or in low levels, the energy production will shift outside of the mitochondria and result in anaerobic respiration with lactic acid production.  Excessive lactic acid production creates the burn in the muscles that we feel when exercising intensely. One interesting thing to note is that an end product of ATP production by the mitochondria are free radicals such as superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, which results in oxidative stress.  This oxidative stress can then inflict damage to the mitochondria itself, resulting in cellular malfunction.

Dysfunction & Disease
Mitochondrial disease is connected with many conditions affecting humans as well as animals including:

  • cardiovascular disease/ arrhythmias
  • respiratory conditions
  • neuromuscular disease
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • immune system disorders
  • diabetes/insulin resistance
  • exercise intolerance/ fatigue
  • joint deterioration/tendon injuries
  • cancer
  • overall tissue weakness and predisposition to injury  

Actually, any time there is a problem in the body, whether if it is a disease or ongoing injury, it can be traced back to poorly functioning mitochondria. A cell requires energy to be produced to function correctly and if there is no energy being produced, then the cell malfunctions.

Malfunction of the mitochondria is directly associated with genetic mutation to some level, which can be acquired or inherited.  Many mitochondrial diseases are inherited on a genetic level, while others are actually induced or acquired as a result of ongoing uncontrolled oxidative stress, dietary influences, medications, toxins, lifestyle influences and many other factors.  The bottom line end result is that if the mitochondria is not functioning correctly, then cellular function is impaired on multiple levels. This can result in disease formation, joint deterioration, poor performance and even just a predisposition to injury.  The resultant poor functioning mitochondria actually then triggers the activation of a transcription factor (NF-kB) which results in the production of inflammatory proteins such as interleukins, prostaglandins, MMP’s and a host of others.  These inflammatory proteins then contribute to a host of conditions including joint deterioration, cancer, respiratory conditions….the list goes on and on, but they themselves feedback and injure the mitochondria.  It becomes a vicious cycle.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is also present when injuries occur such as a strained ligament, tendon or muscle group.  First, those cells were likely predisposed to injury due to ongoing low level cellular malfunction.  Second, when that tissue is injured, it needs to repair itself through cellular differentiation and growth, all of which are regulated by the mitochondria.  If mitochondrial function is poor, not only will injuries be more likely but those same injuries may take excessive time to heal or never recover.

Prevention & Treatment
So, what can we do to improve mitochondrial function?  There are many factors we can control including diet,lifestyle influences and stressors that may aid in their function.  We can also try to minimize the exposure to various toxins, which includes vaccines.  Over vaccinating is an issue in my opinion and can be tapered back in many instances without causing increased risk to the patient. Minimizing excessive prescription drug use can also play a role in maintaining healthy mitochondrial function as many medications can create problems indirectly.  The other main factor that we need to keep in mind is that with energy production (ATP) comes oxidative stress.  It is a part of doing business, but fortunately something that can be controlled.  People and animals that are worked or exercised heavily create an increased demand on their mitochondria for energy production.  Unfortunately, with this comes a higher level of free radicals being produced which then contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction.  This may explain why some athletes (human or animal) are at more risk for injury and joint deterioration, not to mention breakdowns.

We can prevent, manage and improve mitochondrial function through two simple avenues:
        1.   Specific Antioxidant Therapy
        2.   Complete Inflammation Control

Antioxidants come in many forms, some we are familiar with and some not so much.  Vitamin C and vitamin E are too commonly recognized antioxidants.  Vitamin E is commonly used in horses with neuromuscular problems and the reason is that it tends to aid the mitochondria in nerve and muscle cells by neutralizing free radicals.   Another important antioxidant is CoQ10, which is directly involved with the production of ATP in the mitochondria.  Many conditions of mitochondrial dysfunction are directly tied to low cellular levels of CoQ10.

We cannot forget the other arm of mitochondrial protection and that is through inflammation reduction.  Many herbs are antioxidants as well, including curcumin and boswellia, which not only combat the free radicals but also have the added benefit in that they aid in the reduction of the inflammatory arm of the cascade by reducing inflammatory proteins.  Curcumin has been shown to directly impact mitochondrial function as well as improve cellular antioxidant levels.  It is one of the most important herbs for mitochondrial health, but must be taken at specific doses to yield benefits.  All of our Cur-OST products take advantage of the synergism between herbal anti-inflamamtories and antioxidants to achieve these results.

The bottom line is that we can do a lot to improve cellular health and function, through the use of natural occurring antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  Prescription anti-inflammatories generally combat a small part of the inflammatory process and do nothing to improve mitochondrial function.  They are essentially band-aids and are not addressing the bottom line problem.  If you want more energy for yourself, your pets or your horse or are looking to reduce injuries and prevalence of disease…. you want to protect and enhance the mitochondria. By improving and protecting mitochondrial function, we can improve overall performance, slow degeneration and reduce injury.

Our goal at Nouvelle Research, Inc. has always been to impact health through inflammation reduction and antioxidant support.  The process is complicated but by reducing this inflammatory process on a consistent basis, we can protect the cells from deterioration, slow progression of many diseases, reduce pain and encourage normal tissue repair. Inflammation and oxidative stress are a normal part of all of our daily lives, whether if we are human or animal.  Certain conditions such as stress due to lifestyle or even trailering worsen the situation and we need to be aware of the consequences.  The good news is that we can mitigate and control the problem at a cellular level to improve overall health.

All the best,

Tom Schell, D.V.M.

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