The Mighty Mitochondria

The Mighty Mitochondria

A cellular biology breakdown

Mammalian cells are called eukaryote cells. This means each cell contains a central nucleus surrounded by its own membrane, the nuclear membrane — which is where the genetic material is housed. In addition to a nucleus, eukaryotes cells also contain organelles that have a specialized function. This is also surrounded by its own membrane, a plasma membrane. The mitochondria is an organelle with the amazing function of producing power—essentially the power plant of the cell. The mitochondria looks like a cell within a cell and actually even has its own genetic material separate from the genetic material of the nucleus. This mighty little organelle is tubular shaped and converts our metabolites (breakdown products) from food and oxygen into usable energy for our cells. This conversion of food and oxygen into energy is cellular metabolism.  The usable energy produced by mitochondria is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Carbohydrates, fat and protein are broken down into ATP which the cell then uses for its physiological and biochemical functions, like movement, growth, repair, and basic upkeep.

There is both anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic metabolism (with oxygen). For the sake of simplicity, we will only be discussing aerobic metabolism. The mitochondria needs oxygen to function optimally and produce energy (ATP). Without ATP the cell will die. This is a simplification of an elaborately evolved system of energy production and life. The mitochondria needs additional help to produce the necessary energy for the life of our cells. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) provides this help. An optimal level of NAD is vital for this aerobic metabolism to occur. NAD is called a cofactor, a necessary component for a biological pathway to occur or move forward.

So, we now know the mitochondria is the center for energy production and without adequate food and oxygen the cell can die because ATP can only be produced with the proper metabolites. With such a vital role it makes sense that any dysfunction of the mitochondria would lead to serious detrimental effects in the human body. Diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, neurologic diseases, genetic disorders and aging are associated with mitochondria dysfunction. A decrease in mitochondrial number and function does accompany aging.


How can we improve mitochondrial function?

Aerobic exercise increases oxygen uptake and thus cellular respiration. The more oxygen the mitochondria takes in the more energy it can produce providing there are also enough nutrients from food to drive the production of ATP. When the mitochondria are working in the presence of increased oxygen flow, the machinery inside the mitochondria also increases as needed (increased demand results in increased machinery within the mitochondria). Since the mitochondria has its own genetic material, it can independently build new equipment for greater energy production… remember, it is a power plant. With resistance training, mitochondria are also increased in number, to handle the increased demands for energy and oxygen by the working muscle.

With age, there is a decline in health and function leading to mental fog, skin laxity, muscle weakness and atrophy, a decrease in muscle strength, and decreased cardiovascular vigor. Researchers believe this may be related to a dysfunction in mitochondria or a decrease in necessary cofactors which help drive metabolic pathways forward. Thus, there appears to be an aging-related decline in mitochondrial number and function.  NAD is one such molecule that has been shown to decrease pretty dramatically with age. Since NAD is so important to the mitochondria’s production of ATP, supplementing with NAD will at least provide a necessary component (cofactor) to help increase energy production.

To summarize: Aging may be related to a decrease in energy metabolism involving mitochondria and the necessary cofactors involved in energy metabolism.


What can I do to support the aging process?

Exercise: Increase in oxygen intake, aerobic exercise will help improve function and number of mitochondria. To take this further, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is even more effective in increasing density and function of mitochondria in muscle. Additionally, NAD levels are increased in skeletal muscle with HIIT. Remember, supply and demand…when the muscle has more demand for oxygen and energy, the mighty mitochondria will build more machinery. Exercise increases blood flow to the tissues being trained…this is called angiogenesis. Increase blood flow to the cells and increase number of mitochondria and increase levels of the cofactor to energy production (NAD) results in more energy and vigor.

NAD: We know that a key player within the mitochondria is NAD. Strength training has been shown to increase NAD levels in skeletal muscle in aging men. Since aging dramatically decreases levels of NAD, it makes sense that supplementation may help slow down the aging process and the unfortunate consequences of aging. Our supplement, Tru Niagen contains the patented ingredient NIAGEN®, a specialized form of Vitamin B3 that is clinically proven to increase NAD levels. Niagen is a more effective NAD booster than other forms of B3.

Balanced diet: A healthy balanced diet to provide the necessary components for energy production is vital for healthy functioning mitochondria and thus overall cellular health. Supplements are a great way to get adequate amounts of those nutrients we can’t get with diet alone.


Eluamai, A., Brooks, K. Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Mitochondrial DNA and Aging. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. 2013; 11 (1) 1-5

Liana Roberts Stein and Shin-ichiro Imai. The dynamic regulation of NAD metabolism in mitochondria. Trends Endocrinol Metabolism. 2012; Sep; 23(9): 420–428.

Lundby, C., Jacobs, R.A. Adaptations of Skeletal Muscle Mitochondria to Exercise Training. Experimental Physiology. 2016; 101 (1), 17-22

Michelle F. Goody & Clarissa A. Henry. A need for NAD+ in muscle development, homeostasis, and aging. Skeletal Muscle. 2018; volume 8, Article number: 9

Roldan M. de Guia,  Marianne Agerholm,  Thomas S. Nielsen, Leslie A. Consitt, Ditte Søgaard, Jørn W. Helge,  Steen Larsen, Josef Brandauer,  Joseph A. Houmard,  and Jonas T. Treebak. Aerobic and resistance exercise training reverses age‐dependent decline in NAD+ salvage capacity in human skeletal muscle. Physiological Reports. 2019; Jun; 7(12): e14139.



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