As we get older, our energy levels dip. This includes our cellular energy produced by the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria. Cellular energy allows our body to perform essential functions and our muscles to move. Unfortunately, mitochondrial function declines with age, reducing cellular energy and causing muscle fatigue. However, there are several strategies to promote muscle recovery, one of the easiest being taking mitochondria-boosting supplements.
Powering our muscles
Everything is made up of energy; it is the building block of all matter. Cellular energy is a specific type of energy that is created by the mitochondria, which convert glucose and oxygen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a process known as respiration. This process is so essential that mitochondria can take up as much as 25% of cell volume . ATP actually transports the chemical energy produced by respiration and it is known as the ‘energy currency of life’. The mitochondria must produce large amounts of ATP as it cannot be stored in cells; a healthy person at rest can produce their body weight in ATP every day! .
Cellular energy is required for the body to perform three main tasks: to fuel metabolic reactions, to transport molecules across membranes and for mechanical work, like the movement of muscles. Energy is essential to our everyday movements, so it is no surprise that mitochondria are present in high numbers in muscle tissue.
Mitochondria and muscle fatigue
Lifespan, the years we are expected to live, has risen rapidly to an average of 77 years in the United States. However, healthspan, the number of years spent in good health, has been slower to catch up. People still suffer from numerous diseases, especially when entering old age.
Our mitochondria also decline with age, reducing our cellular energy output. Indeed, mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the nine hallmarks of aging, the accumulation of cellular and molecular damage in the body over time that presents in the form of aging. As we age, our mitochondria accumulate genetic mutations and damage to their structure and integrity. Mitochondria are especially susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, oxidative damage and environmental toxins . This reduces our cellular energy production and leaves our bodies and muscles with reduced energy levels.
Mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with several age-related illnesses, including neurodegeneration and ischemic injuries . More immediately, mitochondrial dysfunction can cause muscle fatigue and loss of muscle strength. This can lead to more serious conditions like sarcopenia, which impairs mobility, is linked to frailty and can increase the likelihood of fall-related injuries. Loss of muscle strength can occur as early as our 40s due to a decline in mitochondrial function and cellular energy . So what can be done to reduce muscle fatigue and improve muscle recovery?
How to boost muscle recovery
Unusually, mitochondria have their own special set of DNA, known at mitochondrial DNA or mDNA. This is inherited from our mothers, making it possible for healthy mitochondria, or mitochondrial diseases, to be passed down through generations. This also makes it difficult to control our mitochondria, however, there remain several strategies to improve mitochondria function, and therefore ATP production and muscle recovery:
- Strength exercises. During physical activity, respiration and the production of ATP increases to provide muscles with enough energy to move. At maximal exercise, ATP can be produced at 0.5-1kg per minute! Exercise, especially strength-based training, can also maintain muscle strength and mass. This is especially important as we age to prevent conditions like sarcopenia and frailty. The CDC advises two sessions of strength training per week as part of the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Indeed, strength training can increase ATP production even in people with mitochondrial damage .
- Additionally, nutrients that facilitate ATP production by the mitochondria can be used alongside exercise. These include CoQ10, α-Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine, and resveratrol .
- Getting the right nutrients. Optimising your body’s nutrient status by eating a balanced diet and taking nutrient supplements can limit damage to the mitochondria. Nutrient imbalance is the greatest source of oxidative stress and damage to mDNA, so readdressing this balance is a powerful antiaging tool.
- Avoid exposure to toxins. This is also true for most diseases. As mitochondria have an especially high metabolic activity, they are very susceptible to damage from toxins.
- Limit oxidative stress. A major culprit of aging and age-related diseases, oxidative stress is especially damaging to the mitochondria. Taking nutrients that protect mitochondria from this serious stress can avoid this. The nature of respiration produces a lot of oxidative stress, with oxygen leakage from mitochondria being a major source of cellular oxidants. As damage to mDNA increases with age, this results in even more oxygen leakage. Mitochondria can be protected from oxidative stress by CoQ10, vitamin E, and glutathione .
- Limiting alcohol and prescription drug use. These have both been found to limit ATP production. Certain prescription drug use can damage mitochondria through a range of mechanisms. For example, some antibiotics can impair ATP production, increase the production of the free radical ROS and damage mDNA. However, considering that these are taken to prevent or treat diseases, it is inadvisable to stop taking prescription drugs for mitochondrial health. Excessive alcohol consumption is easier to avoid, as the more alcohol consumed, the greater depletion of ATP production and the more ROS produced .
Supplements for improved muscle recovery
One of the easiest and most effective ways to protect the mitochondria and promote muscle recovery is by taking longevity supplements. Longevity supplements work on the molecular pathways that control the hallmarks of aging. One such supplement is Mitopure, a purified form of the postbiotic urolithin A. Produced by the gut bacteria when we eat certain foods, notably the pomegranate, urolithin A can improve mitochondrial function by triggering mitophagy. This is a special kind of autophagy that clears away old and damaged mitochondria from the cell, making room for healthy mitochondria. Mitopure can also improve muscular strength, and is the only compound that has been shown to improve muscle function through mitophagy .
Photograph: Morgan Sarkissian/Unsplash
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