When Fatigue Gets You Down: A Guide to Understanding Mitochondrial Disease
What is Mitochondrial Disease?
Think of a cell. Then expand that cell and peer inside until you are looking at the microscopic organelles that make up its center. Right there you will see tiny folds of membrane which are called cristae. The whole structure itself is called a mitochondrion and the folded cristae give it more surface area to perform its energy-releasing function.
Every single cell in your body, except for the red blood cells, has mitochondria in it. That means every organ-cell and every system-cell has these powerhouses pumping out energy so it can help keep its organ or the system it is part of working properly.
Now imagine that some of the mitochondria in a certain organ begin to malfunction. Immediately that organ, such as the kidneys, liver, heart or muscle, would begin to work poorly. Gradually the organ itself and the system it was part of would be in trouble.
What do Mitochondria do?
Mitochondria are not only involved with energy production. In fact, more than 90% of their function is to do with metabolic management in the body. Your metabolism is what keeps you balanced; makes sure that tissue and systems in the metabolic pathways are built up when and where they are needed. And are broken down and recycled when their job is done.
How cells can be tired all the time
Not surprisingly any malfunction of these minute organelles gives trouble to the body. The most obvious is fatigue. However, the other symptoms will depend on which organ it is malfunctioning in. The way mitochondrial disease in the kidney looks is very different to mitochondrial disease in the heart or muscle.
Other effects of fatigue…
- If the muscle is affected, controlling it may be hard with a sense of weakness or pain.
- Respiratory problems would show with breathing being harder and too little oxygen being taken in
- Having seizures
- Experiencing sight or hearing difficulties
- Developmental delays
This makes the disease very difficult to diagnose, and it can easily be mistaken for conditions such as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Causes of Mitochondrial Disease
The disease is mostly seen in children and there appears to be a link to the mother’s genetic profile. However, more adults are being diagnosed with it now and some connections are being made with the increasing toxic overload we live with which could erode the optimal functioning of the cells and their organelles.
What to do if you think your difficulty might be linked to Mitochondrial Disease
Finding a practitioner or center which has specialised diagnostic equipment for metabolic problems so you know the best place to start. Working with well trained and experienced practitioners who can be sourced through the Mindd Foundation’s Directory is advisable. If you are experiencing problems in three or more systems of the body, and other family members have had similar problems, consider the possibilities of mitochondria malfunction being at least part of the picture and get yourself checked out.
Treatments for Mitochondrial Disease
Concentrate on alleviating the symptoms as a priority and carefully consider treatment. Of course, much depends on where the symptoms are showing themselves. However, for some people, diet and nutrition have been effective at giving them relief from fatigue or muscle pain. It is important to keep having check-ups so you can monitor what is helping and what is not. There have not been any cures for this disease found to date so good management of symptoms is the goal.
Supportive therapies may help
These could include supplements such as:
- Enzyme CoQ10
- Omega 3 oil
- Vitamins C & E
- Green Tea
Nutrition that brings the body into a more alkaline state and removes free radicals is also important.
- Fresh leafy green vegetables
- Wild, free-range or organic protein such as oily fish, chicken and relatively little red meat
Eliminate toxins in the diet
Perhaps the most important is to remove all processed or refined food from the diet which would immediately place less toxic load on the body. These foods include:
- White flour
- White rice
- White sugar
- Reconstituted meat – burgers, sausages etc
If you take care of your body, it will take good care of you
The best time to start is today!
Parikh S, MD, Saneto R, DO, PhD, Falk MJ, MD, Anselm IJ, MD, Cohen BH, MD, Hass R, MD, MB, BChir, MRCP, and The Mitochondrial Medicine Society (“A Modern Approach to the Treatment of Mitochondrial Disease”)