It’s unlikely many people outside of the health and science fields think much about mitochondria – or even know what they are and what they do. But these energy powerhouses within cells may play a significant role in maintaining cognitive function and a long healthspan.
In recent years, scientists have increasingly focused on the impact of mitochondria on a variety of health issues. The resulting studies have found an association between the levels of mitochondria and the risk of cognitive decline as we age, including the onset of dementia.
The studies also indicate that the energy level in our cells may have a direct relation to how long we maintain a healthy mind and body, a concept referred to as healthspan.
What Are Mitochondria?
Mitochondria are organelles, structures inside your cells that perform specific functions. In the case of mitochondria, they manufacture adenosine triphosphate ( ATP) by converting glucose. In turn, ATP provides the “chemical fuel” that powers most metabolic processes. In addition to that all-important job, mitochondria also store calcium for cell signaling activities.
Clearly, mitochondria play a central role in the proper function of your body and brain. But new research shows the organelles may also factor significantly in longevity and maintaining cognitive health as we age.
Mitochondria and Cognitive Health
The importance of mitochondria became apparent in the 1970s, when research first connected mutations in mitochondrial DNA with a genetic disorder. In recent years, that research has moved into other areas involving mitochondrial dysfunction, not the genetic disorder.
For example, a study published in Aging found a connection between lower levels of humanin, a tiny peptide found in the mitochondrial genome, and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They also found that children of centenarians, who are more likely to become centenarians themselves, had humanin levels at a much higher level than test subjects of the same age.
Another study associated lower mitochondria levels with onset of mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies have connected mitochondria health to migraines, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. The organelle plays such a significant role in overall health that it can be linked to many health issues.
Signs of Lower Mitochondria Levels
Many of the signs of lower mitochondria levels are signs of other issues, as well, making it difficult to always pinpoint the problem. However, if you have several of the following issues and none of it is attributable to some other condition, it could be caused by lowered energy production by mitochondria. They include:
- Low libido
- Brain fog
- Memory loss
- Feeling depressed
- Less endurance
Fortunately, you can help mitochondria production by including more antioxidants in your diet, as well as getting plenty of sunlight and exercise. Also, research has found that mitochondria levels increase during times of intermittent fasting. Those who experience a combination of these symptoms should consult with a physician before trying any type of treatment.
While less known than other biomarkers of potential health and cognitive issues, mitochondria are important to your overall health and wellbeing. Luckily, they react well to practicing many of the habits that can also help you control your weight, reduce stress, improve cognition and improve healthspan.