The human body consists of trillions of cells that function as the smallest units of any living creature. A common saying is that cells are the basic building blocks of life. To survive and stay healthy, cells rely on organelles (groups of complex molecules) that serve them similarly to the way our organs do our bodies. Mitochondria are among the most important organelles, as their primary function is to produce energy for all cellular reactions. Some of our cells, such as the ones in our muscles and liver, require more energy; therefore, they contain more mitochondria than others. Thus, it is worth exploring the pivotal role mitochondria play in the human life cycle and their effects on the liver and our overall life expectancy.

What are mitochondria?

As the “energy factories of cells”, mitochondria are responsible for turning the energy derived from food (protein, fats, sugars) into chemical energy  (ATP – Adenosine triphosphate) that can be used for other biological processes within the body to maintain life functions. This process is called oxidative phosphorylation (OXSPHOS). They are the organelles that source 90% of the energy our cells need to survive. Other than producing energy, mitochondria serve different purposes, such as regulating our innate immunity, breaking down and recycling waste products that enter the body, and causing the death of the cells that are approaching the end of their life cycle. Consequently, the malfunctioning of mitochondria can lead to various serious diseases, making it all the more important to understand their role in the human life cycle.

How are mitochondria protecting the liver?

One of the organs richest in mitochondria with each of its cells (hepatocytes) containing approximately 1000 – 2000 of these organelles is the liver. This can be explained by its key role in the body’s metabolic functions, therefore its high energy demand. The mitochondria in the liver are central to the integration of the hepatic metabolism (chemical alterations that occur in the liver) of nutrients such as lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. By synthesising these metabolic networks, they are also essential for maintaining homeostasis. Therefore, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that in order to avoid diseases of the liver the correct functioning of liver mitochondria is indispensable. Any changes in the balance of mitochondrial biogenesis (the cells’ increase of mitochondria) and degradation (happens to defective mitochondria) can lead to chronic liver disease.

What is the role of mitochondria regarding life length?

There are countless life length determinants, and chief among them are mitochondria. Regarding the aforementioned descriptions of the role mitochondria have in our bodies, we already understand the possible adverse effects of them not working correctly. Thus, when talking about life expectancy, the role of mitochondria in ageing and our overall lifespan becomes apparent. Studies show a decline related to older age in mitochondrial functions, with a particular focus on skeletal muscle. But what causes this decline? Conducted measurements of the functions of mitochondria tend to prove that age causes reduced mitochondrial content and notable deficiencies in mitochondrial activities. Furthermore, age-induced changes can be detected on multiple levels in the expression of genes and the adherent response of mitochondria in the process of encoding mitochondrial proteins, highlighting the causal effects between ageing and the resulting impaired activity of mitochondria. Nevertheless, the relationship between ageing and mitochondria remains the topic of ongoing studies and discussions due to its complexities. 

Mitochondria and Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)

Ongoing research also shows the connection between psychological stress and mitochondrial activity. The study of the interconnectedness of the immune system and behavioural processes is called psychoneuroimmunology. The idea is that being exposed to stress affects the immune system’s responses, and in return, the immune system’s responses affect our behaviour. Mitochondria play a critical role in stress adaptation and regulating the immune system; therefore, their importance regarding the interactions of immune and brain activity interactions is evident. However, more research is needed to determine the exact role of mitochondria in human stress responses.

In conclusion, considering all of the above, mitochondria are determining actors in navigating the human body from various different aspects. They are known to be the “powerhouses of the cells”, but as has been made clear throughout this article, their role goes far beyond chemical energy production. This is the reason why it is essential to learn about their significance and develop a consciousness about our bodies’ overall health. QX World works with Biofeedback devices that serve the purpose of precisely that: they provide feedback on our overall bodily functions and create personalised training accordingly.

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