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What You Need to Know About Mitochondrial Disease

New to the world of mitochondrial disease (“mito” for short)? Continue reading for key facts and figures about what this disease is, its symptoms, and how it works.  

  • It is estimated that one in every 5,000 individuals have mitochondrial disease — a chronic, and typically genetic disorder that occurs when the mitochondria cannot produce enough energy (ATP) to keep the cell alive and healthy (NCBI).   
  • Mitochondrial disease is classified as both rare and progressive. 
  • It is also considered a metabolic disorder – meaning that the body cannot effectively turn food into energy and get rid of waste. 
  • Iarguably isn’t a single disease but more like a collection of conditions that can negatively impact a person’s perception, motor skills, organ function, and energy over time. 
  • Symptoms of mitochondrial diseases depend on which cells of the body are affected. They can range from mild to severe, involve one or more organs, and can occur at any age. Even patients within the same family who have the same mitochondrial disease can have differences in symptoms, severity, and age of onset (Cleveland Clinic) 
  • Symptoms may include:  
    • Muscle weakness or muscle pain 
    • Movement disorders 
    • Neurological problems
    • Vision and/or hearing problems 
    • Learning disabilities 
    • Unexplained vomiting, cramping, reflux 
    • Increased risk of infection 
    • Thyroid problems 
    • Respiratory (breathing) problems 
    • Dementia
  • With the number and type of symptoms and organ systems involved, mitochondrial diseases are often mistaken for other, more common, diseases (Cleveland Clinic). 
  • Here is a list of symptoms that are associated with specific organs that are affected by mito. 
  • Mitochondrial Disease should be suspected when three or more organ systems are involved (UMDF). 
  • Having mito can be like having a cell phone that is very close to running out of battery. Some apps may run for just a short amount of time before the phone turns off completely. 
  • Mitochondrial disorders are typically caused by mutations (acquired or inherited) in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mitochondrial dysfunction may also be acquired as a result of drug use, infections, or other environmental causes (NIH). 
  • The first pathogenic mutation in mitochondrial DNA was identified in 1988. There have since been 275 other disease-causing mutations identified (National Academy of Sciences). 
  • Mito is very difficult to diagnose because it’s often invisible. It can take over 7 years to reach a proper diagnosis (Mito Action). 
  • Mitochondria are known as the “powerhouse of the cell”, and they are responsible for producing about 90% of cellular energy. 
  • When a cell requires more energy, the mitochondria inside of that cell can reproduce by growing larger, and then dividing themselves. When cells require less energy, mitochondria can become dormant and inactive. Mitochondria can also die due to lack of use. 
  • There are secondary illnesses that have been linked to mitochondrial diseases, including: 
    • Diabetes 
    • Autism 
    • Parkinson’s disease 
    • Alzheimer’s disease 
    • Heart, liver, or kidney diseases 
  • Your mitochondria become weaker and decline in number as you age. Ultimately, all the things we associate with aging – fatigue, excess fat, and a decrease in muscle mass and cognitive ability – are all symptoms of weakening mitochondria (Bulletproof). 
  • There are currently no known cures for mitochondrial disease. 
  • Supportive therapy is one treatment option that can be used to help delay the progression of mitochondrial dysfunction. This therapy may include nutritional management, exercise and/or vitamin or amino acid supplements. 
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What are Mitochondria, and Why Do They Matter?

Every living thing is comprised of cells, which are the building blocks of life. Inside of these cells are a series of organelles – sub-compartment-like entities that perform various but specific functions. Different cells throughout your body notably have different shapes and sizes, and thus, different purposes.  Similar cells (ones that do the same job) form body tissues, such as muscle, skin, or bone tissue. Groups of different types of cells make up the organs in your body, such as your heart, liver, or lungs. Collectively, all organs work together as a system to keep you alive and healthy (Science NetLinks). 

 

What are mitochondria? 

“The powerhouse of the cell”that’s how most people think of and remember the mitochondrion (plural: mitochondria) from their high school biology class. They are organelles that function like microscopic, yet super complex factories, producing energy and disposing of waste that is detrimental to the body. Mitochondria are critical for cell survival, and ATP (energy) that your mitrochondria help produce is vital for metabolic processes and keeping you healthy. 

 

The Structure of Mitochondria 

Mitochondria are designed to maximize their productivity. They contain two membranes – the outer membrane functions like a skin, and the inner membrane makes it possible for more reactions to occur. This means that your cells can get more work done.

Illustration by Alyssa Garwood

Outer membrane: This is a phospholipid bilayer that includes protein-based structures called porins, which enable molecules (ions, ATP, ADP, etc.) to cross.  

 

Inner membrane: This membrane is highly complex and it is where most ATP is created. It includes all the complexes of the electron transport system, the ATP synthetase complex, and transport proteins. The inner membrane does not have porins like the outer membrane, so it is impermeable to most molecules. 

 

Cristae: These are the folds of the inner membrane, which increase the surface area and the space available for chemical reactions to occur. This is also where the electron transport chain and enzymes are located.  The number of cristae in the mitochondria correlates with the given cell’s demand for ATP. For example, heart muscle cells contain up to three times more cristae than other cells due to the greater need for ATP (Biology Dictionary).  

 

Matrix: This is the space within the inner membrane where the citric acid cycle, or Krebs cycle, takes place. This is an important part of cellular respiration and ATP production.  Mitochondrial DNA is also housed here. 

 

How the Mighty Mitochondria Work 

Mitochondria are found in the cells of animals, humans, plants and fungi. While they are primarily known for converting energy from food to energy for biological processes, mitochondria are deeply involved in several other activities that enable cells to function efficiently to help you keep your body healthy. Here are the five key roles that mitochondria play in cellular health, and what can happen when these functions are disturbed: 

  1.  Production of ATPMitochondria produce 90% of the energy our body needs to function by converting chemical energy from nutrients to ATP. During cellular respiration, another chemical called NADH is produced, which is then used by enzymes to generate ATP in the form of chemical bonds.The production of ATP is essential to help the body function properly. Without energy, your cells and your body suffer. Dysfunction from lack of ATP can contribute to a variety of health concerns, including but not limited to: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes, cancer, and several types of mitochondrial disease.
  2.  Calcium Homeostasis This is the flow of calcium in and out of a cell’s mitochondria. This process is an important part of metabolic regulation and killing off unhealthy cells.  When mitochondrial calcium homeostasis is compromised, different pathological conditions can occur, depending on the cell type involved (NCBI).
  3. Cell MigrationThis refers to the orchestrated movement of cells to specific locations in response to chemical signals.  Regulation of cell migration can help terminate unhealthy cells and speed up wound-healing; conversely, if this process is not well-managed, there may be serious health consequences, including but not limited to: tumor formation and cancer formation, vascular disease, tumor formation and metastasis.
  4. Apoptosis – This is essentially programmed cell death which involves maintaining the health of the body by eliminating old cells, unnecessary cells, and unhealthy cells. Without appropriate apoptosis (either too little or too much), there is a greater risk of experiencing health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, ischemic damage, autoimmune disorders and many types of cancer (NCBI).
  5. Innate Immunity This refers to nonspecific defense mechanisms – such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and cells within your immune system that attack foreign cells — that basically come to the rescue immediately or within hours of an antigen’s appearance in the body. In addition to regulating antiviral signaling, mitochondria also contribute to innate immune activation following cellular damage and stress (NCBI).  
Illustration by Alyssa Garwood

To recap, ATP is energy currency for your cells, and your mitochondria are the primary sources for producing more of it to help keep you alive and healthy. These organelles are also responsible for surveilling and eliminating the growth of unhealthy cells. If any deficiency in your mitochondria are present, then you are more likely to experience health issues 

 

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From Trend to Medical Paradigm: Biohacking for Answers

Written by Chloe Weber L.Ac, MSOM, Co-Founder and CEO of Radical Roots and more importantly, Remy’s Mom.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

More Than A Movement

I’ve been biohacking my son since before I knew “biohacking” was more than Bulletproof coffee and silly glasses.  As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I didn’t bat an eye when the geneticist told me that my child had a neurotransmitter disorder that only occurs in one out of every 20 million people.  I stared at the doctor as he told me that my son would likely have intractable seizures, intellectual disability, Parkinson’s-like tremors, ataxia and apraxia . . . As he told me, “There’s not much research, I printed two studies—but I didn’t get to read them yet.”  I looked him in the eye as he annihilated a lifetime of dreams of soccer games and sharing books, of surfing adventures and herb talks. I glared at the doctor, terrified and defiant, because no one will ever tell me what my son is capable of, because Remy’s tale is just beginning to unfold.

What most families don’t know is that there is a whole world of medicine that exists outside of the current medical paradigm; that there is help and hope.

Biohacking has turned from a trend to a movement, and now we need to use that movement to help the most vulnerable and desperate population of our society.  Neuro-developmental disorders are crippling our families, disabling our children and putting incredible stress on our medical and education systems. With the incidence of autism increasing at exponential rates and other developmental and neurological disorders becoming more and more prevalent, it is essential that we find help for these families immediately.  We need to protect further generations from the harm and help address the terrifying fertility issues at hand.

Western medicine, Western lifestyle, and diet are hurting our children.  EMFs, toxins, horrific nutrition, genetic mutations, poor digestion, disrupted microbiomes, disrupted hormones, food allergies—our children are the canaries in the coal mine and they are suffering.  Families of children with special needs are desperate for help, while the medicine and the support systems are epically failing them. Isolated and scared, parents are left studying day and night hoping to find help, hoping for answers; while fighting for support and services during the day.  

What these parents don’t realize is that most of the therapies their children receive are highly outdated and ineffective.  For an entire year I spent 40 hours a week doing “typical” therapy with my son with negligible results.  What most parents do not realize is that the most important changes they can make are in their own kitchen. Even fewer consider the ramifications of EMF on a developing brain, or glyphosate on the mitochondria.  Parents are so scared and overwhelmed that they become paralyzed.

From tiger mom to the mother-f*cking warrior of all warrior moms.  

I didn’t bat an eye when the doctor broke the news.  I turned toward his assistant and told her to print out every-single-study she could find while I went to call Remy’s acupuncturist. I didn’t break down.  I didn’t give up. I have been able to push forward because I know what so many families don’t—that the brain is plastic.  That given the right support and the right therapies, the brain can and WILL change.

I don’t know what lies ahead for Remy, I don’t know what he will achieve, but I will always love him for exactly who he is, while I fight to push him further.

I take Remy to a neurologist in Ecuador for a month twice a year.  The doctor treats him with hyperbaric oxygen, ozone therapy, alpha brainwave stimulation, low-level lasers and other bioenergetic medical techniques.  He’s a Cuban doctor who studied in Russia. He’s brilliant and he does things Western doctors couldn’t imagine let alone comprehend. His practice is based on balancing brainwaves.  During our first trip, Remy’s brain map showed that is brain was at 76% delta—76% delta!! My child was in transcendental meditation; he was not even in this realm.

I also take Remy to The Family Hope Center in Philadelphia.  Their program empowers parents to become their child’s therapist, to become their child’s greatest advocate, to support their biology, and challenge their neurology so that they can create new neural pathways.  They use diet, supplements, functional movement (crawling and creeping), smells, reflex integration (and more) to challenge a child’s prognosis. They are phenomenal, and they are changing the lives of children struggling with all sorts of neurological challenges.

Where to Start

The heart of every comprehensive program for neurological health includes: nutrition, detoxification, oxygen, movement and supplementation (and nutrigenomics).  These are all the fundamentals of biohacking as well.

The gut and the diet are the first place to start for any neurological disorder.  Decades of research show how effective the keto diet is for mitigating seizures.  Now research is beginning to explain some of the biomechanics that makes that possible.  In fact, current studies are showing that a particular strain of bacteria that is propagated by the keto diet is also enhanced by CBD supplementation.  This bacteria has been proposed to positively affect not only epilepsy but multiple sclerosis.  Other research clearly shows how a simple elimination diet can be used to alleviate the symptoms of ADHD.  What if all children with special needs were offered a gut test like Viome so they can optimize their health?  What could the brains behind BiOptomizers do with the research from those tests?

Environmental and electromagnetic toxicity is impacting all of us, but our children are by far the most affected.  Many children get their first iPad before they are 3, and classrooms are filled with cell phones and WiFi.  Water is often tainted with lead and glyphosate, and one of the first foods that children typically eat is arsenic-tainted rice cereal.  The impact of these toxins on developing brains and bodies is now being seen and slowly understood—but the evidence is clear—we have an epidemic on our hands.

Oxygen For Brain Health

Oxygen is tricky to administer, but essential for neurological health.  Hyperbarics have been studied for numerous neurological disorders and many people have found incredible success using them.  Family Hope Center also uses Carbogen and reflex bags in their treatment protocols. (The “bags” are specially made for you to breathe into for 30 seconds until the carbon dioxide signals for the brain to uptake more oxygen.  Remy loves them, but obviously this needs to be done with supervision and know-how.) Finding out how to use oxygen therapy for developmental disorders is essential. The doctor we see insists on using the chamber before doing neurofeedback, but there are so many variables.  Photobiomodulation is another interesting option. I just ordered Remy a VieLight 810 this morning. If the brain develops from the bottom up, and the most injured children have problems in their midbrain and pons, then intranasal photobiomodulation seems like a very reasonable method of stimulation and healing to try.  

When you have poor proprioceptive awareness, it’s so hard to know where your body ends and where the world begins. Mind/body awareness therapies such as the Anat Baniel Method and the Feldenkrais Method are remarkable for children with developmental disorders.  Yoga and tai chi have been shown to help with balance and awareness, support motor planning, and promote calmness. What else can we do to stimulate the body to change the brain? What tools do we have to help the children learn to be more aware, to gain more strength and independence?  

And Last, Supplementation.

So much research is coming out on nutrigenomics — information on how our genetics and our lifestyle affect our ability to function.  Children with special needs have notoriously bad GI tracts, difficulty absorbing and processing nutrients, and often have improperly functioning detoxification pathways. Why aren’t doctors looking at their labs tests and testing for nutritional deficiencies, for hormonal fluctuations?  Surely every child with special needs should have their genes run for maladaptive SNPs and mutations?

As a community, we have some of the most curious and progressive minds in medicine, and we have innovative thinkers who are pushing themselves to be better in every way in order to make a greater impact and find more joy.  You all inspire me with your brilliance and drive. I beg of you, help me help these children. Help me help these parents — these parents who give all that they have to care for their children; who give up their own health to work extra jobs; who give up their sleep to nervously watch their seizing children; who give any time they have to fight for appropriate support for their kids.  I can tell you first-hand how exhausting, terrifying and lonely it is. The bureaucracy is never-ending and the daily struggle to manage your pain and fears is exhausting.

It breaks my heart to see these parents, locked in fear and misery.  So many special needs parents suffer with PTSD. So many are not able to make the right food choices, or find space for meditation and gratitude let alone exercise and play.

But What If They Could?

I am an independent mama to a child with multiple disabilities. I run a private practice and a CBD/Chinese herb company. I am actively fighting to improve the lives of others.  I have two cats and one dog. I love my life and I am so grateful for all I have and even more grateful for my perfect son. I could not do what I do without biohacking.  

I cannot tell you how much this community needs us.  Needs the very best that biohacking has to offer. I have seen what is possible for these children.  I have seen kids who had hundreds of seizures a day stop seizing altogether. Speechless children start talking.  I have seen my son, now almost five, take his first independent steps just two months ago. Every inch is a mile, and every single one helps these children gain more independence, find more joy and find more connectivity with this (sick and twisted) beautiful world. 

Please, help me help them.  Help us.

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How to Increase Your Deep Sleep by 15%

Written by Siim Land

You may already be aware that blue light in the evening disrupts your body’s circadian rhythms and can reduce the quality of your sleep, but it can still be pretty hard to escape it.  Between computers, TVs, smart phones and tablets, we’re surrounded and accustomed to the constant illumination of modern life. So, how bad is blue light at night for you really?

Blue Light 101

Blue light influences hormone secretion, heart rate, alertness, sleep, body temperature, and gene expression (1).

Sources of blue light include the Sun, artificial light sources like digital screens, smartphones, TVs, lamps, traffic signs, computers, fluorescent and LED lighting.

Blue light exposure has a very important role in regulating your circadian rhythms and biological processes.

Unfortunately, because of technology and new gadgets, we’re getting exposed to more and bluer light for longer periods of time, which can promote obesity, depression, diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders and poor sleep.

Cover Your Eyes

Most of the circadian signaling is transmitted through the retinas through which blue light travels into the brain and stimulates the inner biological clock. However, it’s been shown how even shining some blue light on the back of your elbows or knees suppresses melatonin the sleep hormone.

In fact, one study used a fMRI analysis to look at how exposure to dim light at night while sleeping affected the brain activity of 20 healthy men (2).

They found that:

  • Exposure to 10-lux light for one night significantly decreased brain activity in the right hemisphere, which lowered their working memory performance as well.
  • Exposure to 5-lux light didn’t have a significant effect but it still may have an indirect effect on cognition.

That’s some scary stuff to think about because sleep is such a crucial thing for your overall health and brain’s development.  Suppressing melatonin because of blue light sneaking into your bedroom prevents your brain from repairing itself and can cause missing out on the most vital components of sleep.

Protect Your Sleep With Your Life

The invasion of artificial light into the darkness of night can be a big threat to human health and sleep and it’s not something you’d want to overlook.

Imagine how many people are suffering from suppressed melatonin by staying up late and exposing them to blue light in the evening. Their brain literally thinks its at the equator with the sun blazing on their head even though it’s 10 PM at night. My eyes…It takes several hours before melatonin can begin to rise again and by that time it may be too late…

Just to be clear: not ALL blue light is bad.  Getting enough blue light during the morning parts of the day is also important for boosting your alertness. At night, however, exposure to blue light will suppress your body’s natural melatonin production and make you sleep worse. I’ve been using some blue blocking glasses for over a year and I noticed a significant improvement in my sleep quality if I wear them.

How I Increased My REM Sleep by as Much as 15%

A few weeks ago I bought theses night time Truedark glasses (with red lenses), and they block out absolutely all artificial light. They’re like these serious superhero goggles, and even though they look a little silly, they’re really amazing. I looked at the sleep data from my Oura ring and I gained about 10-15% more deep sleep every single night that I opted to wear the TrueDark Twilight Classic sleep-hacking glasses. That’s like quite crazy to think about because I was already using glasses that blocked out most of the blue light, but apparently, it wasn’t enough.

Now imagine someone who’s not using any protective eye-wear, and they’re likely looking at computer screens or some other kind of digital device up until they go to bed. Their melatonin levels will be severely suppressed throughout the day (and night), causing their circadian rhythm to get all out of wack and make them feel completely fatigued the next day.

Beforehand, I was using some regular blue blocking glasses you can get from any online store. I was aware that they weren’t the highest of quality and I was fine with that. However, after wanting to take my sleep optimization to the next level, I was looking for the best protective eye-wear.

TrueDark Glasses Review

Like I mentioned earlier, most circadian signaling gets transmitted through the eyes, which is why you’d want to protect them against artificial light in the evening. Unfortunately, most glasses don’t really filter out all of the junk light frequencies, which makes it more difficult for your body to produce melatonin naturally at night time.

  • Common blue blocking glasses don’t cover the wavelengths that affect the production of melanopsin — not just blue light, but also green and violet light (3).
  • TrueDark Twilight Classic  glasses use technology that filters out the wavelengths that stimulate melanopsin sensors — maximizing your sleep quality, performance, and health.

The TrueDark Twilight glasses are a class of their own because they block out 98-100% of blue, green and violet light, depending on which Twilight style you choose. When I first wore them, I literally almost walked into walls like a blind bat. Be careful that you don’t trip over your dog when you wear them!

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the TrueDark Twilight glasses and they’re definitely the best ones out on the market. The regular yellow-lensed blue blocking glasses can be worn during the earlier parts of the night or when you’re going out but the Twilight glasses are best worn about 30-90 minutes before bedtime — all depending on your individual biology and what stimulants you may have had earlier in the day.

Tips for Deep Sleep

Here are some additional tips for getting more deep sleep:

  • Daylight Exposure – You want to set off a proper circadian rhythm in the morning by spending time outside for 10-15 minutes. Even if it’s cloudy, you’ll activate the circadian clock in your brain and get a better night’s sleep.
  • Be Physically Active – If you’re exercising consistently, you’re going to make yourself more tired and yearn for better sleep.
  • Eat Some Fat and Protein at Dinner – Foods high in tryptophan like turkey, eggs, salmon, pumpkin seeds help to produce serotonin the relaxation hormone.
  • Stop Eating at Night – You want to stop food consumption at least 2-4 hours before going to bed. This is a pretty big one. Too much food sitting in your stomach prevents the body from repairing itself and falling into deep sleep.
  • Red Light Therapy – Using a red light therapy device in the evening mimics the natural sunset and will promote melatonin the sleep hormone. I turn down all the blue lights in my house and immerse myself in red light for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Wear Blue Blockers – I start wearing my blue blockers about 2 hours before bed, especially if I’m still watching screens or TV.

When I do stick to this routine, I sleep like a log, and I have the sleep data to prove it.

References