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The Importance of Mitochondrial Health: A User's Guide

Healthy mitochondria are the foundation of good health, science is discovering. Find out why they are important and what you can do today to optimize them.

What to know

  • Mitochondria are specialized structures within our cells that are responsible for generating the energy we need to live. While the primary role of mitochondria is to create energy, they have other critical functions in the cell, including cell communication, cell growth and death, and provide building blocks for our genetic material.

  • Mitochondria take elements from the food we eat (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) combined with oxygen from the air we breathe to produce energy (ATP) through a process called cellular respiration.

  • While cellular respiration provides the body with much-needed ATP, it generates free radicals as byproducts that can damage delicate mitochondria and their DNA, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction.

  • Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to aging and age-related conditions, such as loss of muscle mass and neurodegenerative diseases.

  • Focusing on the health of your mitochondria through diet, exercise, and targeted supplements like Mitopure can help your mitochondria work better to improve your health.

Mitochondria: Your Guide to Cellular Health and OptimizationLearn about your mitochondria, the tiny cellular components responsible for generating most of the energy we need to live our lives. While the scientific community has long been aware of the important role mitochondria play in health, they are only recently gaining more general recognition.In recent years, mitochondria have been identified as important players in the aging process, [ 1 ] and are therefore being studied for their role in the development of chronic age-related conditions such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders , cardiovascular disease, and Age-Related Muscle Decline . Anyone interested in increasing their health will certainly want to know more about these important structures.If you've long forgotten your high school biology, you may be wondering what mitochondria are and how we keep them healthy. With Timeline Nutrition playing such an integral role in the scientific research around mitochondrial health, we wanted to create the ultimate user guide, outlining everything you need to know about what they do and giving you a toolbox to optimize their function.

What are mitochondria?In simple words, mitochondria are specialized structures within our cells that are responsible for generating the energy we need to live. Think of them as microscopic factories that take raw materials like food and oxygen and run them through a complex assembly line to create energy.Almost all of our cells contain mitochondria to fuel their demand for energy. The concentration of mitochondria in cells varies according to their demand for energy, so it is not surprising that the heart, liver, brain, and muscles are full of mitochondria. In fact, a single active muscle cell can contain as many as 2,500-3,000 mitochondria. Red blood cells are the exception; they do not contain any mitochondria.

What is the role of mitochondria?The main role of mitochondria is to create energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). However, they also have other critical functions in the cell. Mitochondria are involved in:

  • Metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats

  • Synthesis of fats and proteins.

  • Creating building blocks for our genetic material (RNA and DNA)

  • cellular communication

  • Calcium balance in our body

  • Growth and cell death.

With so many important functions in the body, it's clear why we should focus our attention on caring for these vital organelles.

What is mitochondrial DNA?An interesting fact about mitochondria is that they have their own DNA , distinct from the chromosomal DNA in the nucleus of our cells. This DNA, called mtDNA, codes for many of the proteins necessary for energy metabolism and is passed down exclusively from our mothers. The discovery of mtDNA fueled an intriguing theory: that mitochondria evolved from ancient bacteria that were engulfed by larger, more complex cells. They developed a symbiotic relationship with the host cell, providing them with much-needed energy. Over time, they evolved into complex multicellular organisms like humans.

The discovery of mtDNA was groundbreaking because it led to the discovery of mitochondrial disease and the fact that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a role in many genetic disorders.It should be noted that mtDNA is highly susceptible to damage , which may play a role in the development of mitochondrial dysfunction and the aging process.

What does ATP mean?

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate , and it's the form of energy our bodies use to power all the biological processes that keep us alive. The name triphosphate comes from the fact that it has three phosphate molecules, where the available energy is stored. ATP releases energy when one of the phosphate bonds is broken.

ATP cannot be stored, so our mitochondria must function 24/7 to provide us with life-sustaining energy. As we age, its power generation capacity decreases, which means our energy levels also decrease. Taking care of our mitochondria by triggering their renewal process may be the key to reversing the loss of ATP production.

Understanding Energy Metabolism

At an extremely high level, our mitochondria take elements from the food we eat (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) combined with oxygen from the air we breathe to produce ATP through a process called cellular respiration.

They essentially act like a factory with a series of complex assembly lines. Food and oxygen pass through the production line with the help of nutrients, which behave like workers and their tools. If a worker is absent or a tool part malfunctions, the entire production line can come to a halt, jeopardizing the end product.

There are three main steps to cellular respiration:

1. glycolysis2. The tricarboxylic acid cycle (also called the Krebs cycle or TCA cycle)3. And oxidative phosphorylation

During this process, a glucose molecule (a simple sugar that comes from the carbohydrates we eat) is broken down into carbon dioxide and water, ultimately producing ATP.

Along the way important coenzymes are generated: nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FADH2). They become electron donors that feed the electron transport chain, part of the oxidative phosphorylation phase. This is the phase where most of the ATP is produced.

While cellular respiration provides the body with much-needed ATP, it generates free radicals as a byproduct. Also called reactive oxygen species (ROS), these free radicals can damage delicate mitochondria and their DNA, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction.

What is mitochondrial dysfunction?

Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs with the accumulation of ROS, which triggers damage to mitochondria and their DNA. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to several chronic conditions, including:

  • Mitochondrial disease

  • Age-related muscle deterioration

  • Age-related hearing loss

  • Early aging

  • Diabetes

  • Certain types of cancer

  • Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, ALS and Parkinson's

  • Autism

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

Our cells have evolved a critical recycling process to maintain the health of our mitochondria. This process is called mitophagy.

1: Fission: mitochondria are broken down into smaller fragments and those that are damaged are separated so that they can be subjected to mitophagy. / 2: Mitophagy: Mitophagy is the removal and recycling of damaged mitochondria. Mitopure™ is the first cellular nutrition to trigger mitophagy and has been shown to improve muscle function. / 3: Biogenesis: A process that takes place when our cells regenerate new healthy mitochondria and then fuse them with existing healthy ones.

What is mitophagy?

Since mitochondria are so important to our very existence, it's no wonder the body has evolved a process to keep their health in check. Mitophagy is the mechanism of quality control of the cell, where it gets rid of dysfunctional mitochondria and generates healthier and more efficient ones.

Mitophagy is a type of autophagy. Autophagy is the process by which damaged cellular components are broken down and removed from the cell so that these damaged parts do not accumulate inside the cell.

New mitochondria are created through a process called biogenesis, where our cells regenerate new healthy mitochondria and then fuse them with existing healthy ones.

Research suggests that this important process declines as we age, implying that our ability to create healthy mitochondria to support our energy demands declines. Inducing mitophagy may be one way to reverse this reduced function.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Mitochondrial Health

Now that you understand how important tiny but mighty mitochondria are to energy creation and the aging process, you may be wondering what exactly you should do to keep them in tip-top shape.

That's why we've created this simple yet effective strategy to optimize your mitochondria.

1. Eat a healthy diet

The critical step in your mitochondrial care plan is to focus on eating a well-balanced diet. Too many of us eat a diet filled with processed foods ​​and empty calories, which is putting a strain on the mitochondria. Many Americans don't get enough of the crucial nutrients that support energy metabolism. Like absent workers or broken tools on the assembly line, nutrient deficiencies will slow down ATP production. B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and chromium are just a few of the essential workers in our mitochondrial production line. When they are lacking in the diet, our ability to generate energy is affected.

Energy production is a risky business, with so many ROS being produced as a by-product. A diet rich in antioxidants will help offset free radical damage associated with ATP generation and offer protection to delicate mtDNA.

In addition to what you eat, how much and when you eat can also play a role in optimizing your mitochondria. Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction appear to have a protective effect on mitochondria and may stimulate autophagy.

2. Get plenty of exercise

It is well known that regular physical activity is a necessary component of any wellness plan. However, researchers are now learning how exercise promotes longevity at the cellular level. It appears that exercise, particularly high-intensity interval training, ameliorate the age-associated decline in mitochondrial function in muscle cells. A regular exercise routine is essential to maintain our mitochondrial health.

Question: What is the impact of longer continuous exercise sessions compared to shorter bursts of exercise on mitochondrial function? A recent study compared the impact of 45 minutes of continuous exercise versus active breaks of 5 minutes every hour for 9 hours over 4 days to understand the impact on mitochondrial capacity and muscle function.

3. Optimize mitophagy

Like spring cleaning for your cells, mitophagy helps remove damaged mitochondria, making room for newer, healthier ones. As a potent inducer of mitophagy, it makes sense that urolithin A would be the next step in your mitochondrial care plan. While urolithin A can be produced in the human intestine from dietary precursors found in pomegranates, berries, and nuts , only 40% of people can produce significant amounts of this powerful anti-aging molecule. The only way to ensure that you are getting a clinically proven dose of urolithin A is through direct supplementation.

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4. Targeted Supplementation

As people begin to accept the role of mitochondrial optimization in promoting health and longevity, they are turning to advanced nutrition targeted at cellular health.Since there are several important nutrients that mitochondria need to do their job, targeted supplementation can be an important last step in your mitochondrial care plan. At the top of the list of supplements is urolithin A due to its unique ability to induce mitophagy. Some other nutrients we think are worth mentioning include:

  • NAD+: As we learned earlier, NAD+ is a coenzyme that plays a vital role in energy metabolism, accepting and donating hydrogen molecules as part of the electron transport chain. NAD+ levels decline as we age, and research suggests that supplementation with a precursor molecule (nicotinamide riboside) may help support energy metabolism and mitochondrial health.

  • CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10, also called ubiquinol-10, is produced within mitochondria to act as an antioxidant and counteract free radical damage. The role of this molecule in mitochondrial health has been well studied and it appears that dietary supplementation may offer some benefit to our mitochondria.

  • L-carnitine: L-carnitine is an amino acid that helps transport fatty acids into the mitochondria to convert them into energy. Because of this, people can use L-carnitine as a supplement to support weight loss. Although there are mixed results on its use for weight loss, it appears that supplementation can significantly increase mitochondrial function.

  • B vitamins: There are eight B vitamins, many of which play a central role in ensuring that cellular respiration runs smoothly. One B complex vitamin will provide at least 100% of the daily value for each B vitamin, ensuring that your mitochondria have the tools they need to do their job efficiently.

  • Antioxidants: Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Selenium, Glutathione, and Alpha Lipoic Acid are just a few of the antioxidants that may support mitochondrial health by balancing free radical damage.

There's no question about it, mitochondria are essential to life. While much remains to be discovered about its role in aging and disease, we know that our health is under its control. Learn more about the science behind Mitopure and how urolithin A supports cellular performance and mitochondrial optimization.


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Written byJen Scheinman, MS, RDN, CDN

Translated into Spanish by

Gabriela Ana

Holistic Health Coach

+34 604 398 948


  1. Jang JY, Blum A, Liu J, Finkel T. The role of mitochondria in aging. J Clin Invest. 2018;128(9):3662-3670. doi:10.1172/JCI120842 (

  2. Chinnery PF, Schon EA. mitochondria. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Published online September 2003. Accessed February 20, 2022.


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