Mitochondria II: Keeping the Power Grid Up and Running

December 09, 2008

Mitochondria II:  Keeping the Power Grid Up and Running 

Competency # 4 ACTIVITY.                         Reference:   Nutrition Action Health Letter, December 2006 

 As you drive from Milwaukee to Fond du Lac Wisconsin you pass by some of the prettiest farms in Wisconsin.  The rolling hills are home to some of America’s best dairy land and the premium farmland is fertile.  Just south of Fond du Lac, you cross over the Kettle Moraine formation and find yourself on a wide high plain that used to separate two sheets of glacier.  

It’s windy, all the time.  And today you find wind turbines, lots of them.  As far as the eye can see, softly whirring away.  The faster the wind blows, the faster the giant blades spin, generating power for you and me. Your mitochondria are quietly whirring away inside you.  They can’t quite switch on and off as easily as wind turbines, or coal-burning power plants.  There isn’t a simple off switch. 

If you have a healthy mitochondria, that little devil just can’t help itself.  It just churns out energy.  Did you get that?  It can’t quite help itself.  A healthy little mitochondria just churns out energy. That means there is a complex balance going on inside each of us.  It’s not just as simple as energy in and energy out.  You have a basal metabolic rate.  You take some calories and just burn them.  The dance of hormones and genes determines how you split those calories up.  We are now pretty sure that if you eat lots of white carbohydrates and simple sugars, your body will put out insulin in response and put those simple sugars into long term storage (“Minute on lips = Lifetime on Hips” was referring to all things sugar).  

But, underlying that temptation to storage, you have a basal metabolic rate, and that’s the rate at which your mitochondria chew their way through the energy that’s supplied to them.  Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy you are burning each and every day just sitting around doing nothing.  Keeping your body warm, keeping your heart beating, breathing, cleaning your blood by kidneys and liver all take energy.  Turns out if you do only do those functions, you gradually ratchet the number of mitochondria down.  

The less you exercise, the slower your metabolism becomes and the less fuel you burn.  If you exercise rigorously, and I mean enough to get sweaty for at least 15-20 minutes a day, you put out the message that you need more power from the grid.  Your internal hormonal mix stimulates the mitochondria to start dividing and multiplying.   In about six weeks of daily exercise, you can document that you have increased the number of mitochondria some 50%. 50% more!  And once you have those little devils in place, they just burn away all day long.  For a mere 15 minutes a day, you can shame them into working hard for you all day long, burning more energy than you need.  And that means losing weight without even trying. 

 WWW:  What Will Work for Me!  WOW.  50% increase in my power grid by exercising.  I need motivation to keep going at exercise.  Knowing that I’m maintaining my supply of power plants by exercising gives me motivation.  Get the visual?  Little tiny powerplants, burning away fat.  Day and night.  Next week…… cutting edge new ideas.

Column written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. 53045 (262-784-5300)