It's important to look at the mitochondria and see how to help fuel it, from the right supplements, to fixing the circadian rhythm. Make sure to watch this episode for practical nutrients to take and lifestyle tips to improve mitochondrial cellular defense and energy output.
3:32 - What is the Mitochondria?
6:15 - Mitochondria in celluar defense
12:50 - How to Test for Mitochondrial health?
19:20 - How does Poor sleep affect mitochondria?
27:40 - How consumption of food at different times affect mitochondria
29:40 - What's the optimal feeding window
32:25 - How supplements play a part in healing the mitochondria?
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Hi, welcome to The Dr. Lam Show. We have Ari Whitten here today who is a functional medicine expert and founder of The Energy Blueprint. He is writing a book and it's coming out very soon. It's called Eat for Energy: How to Beat Fatigue, Supercharge Your Mitochondria, and Unlock All-Day Energy. Most of my listeners and people listening to this podcast deal with fatigue. That's kind of what this podcast is all about. So you're gonna love as we talk with Ari about his unique scientific framework to reclaim energy, brainpower and wellbeing using nutrition, sleep and daily habits. So very happy to have you here, Ari.Ari Whitten:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
I always like to ask, how did you get to where you're at? What's your journey in becoming so passionate about this?Ari Whitten:
I'll give you the very short version, so we can spend as much time as possible talking about the science and practical strategies to improve energy levels. The short version is health science has been my passion and obsession since a very young age since I was about 12, or 13 years old. And I'm now 38. And really, it's been my passion for pretty much my entire life at this point. Early on, it was more fitness, body composition focused, I was into bodybuilding. When I was younger, my older brother was a personal trainer and bodybuilder. So I kind of got funneled into things from that side of things. I was also an athlete. And so early on, that was more of my world, exercise, physiology, nutrition, fitness, body composition. And then in my mid 20s, I got mononucleosis from Epstein Barr Virus, and I was incapacitated from that for several months, and ultimately close to a year dealing with pretty severe chronic fatigue. And that really rocked my world, you know, always being fit and healthy and athletic, having lots of energy, it completely changed my life to not have much energy anymore. And that was the catalyst for me for becoming very interested in energy levels. And as I dug deeper into that topic, I started to discover, and I'm happy to talk about specifics of what I'm about to say, if you'd like to delve into that. But I discovered that, within conventional medicine, and within the natural health, wellness, functional medicine space, people did not really understand what was causing fatigue and how to fix it. What are the real factors that are regulating human energy levels? So that was the catalyst for me to devote my life which I've been doing for the past decade to building our understanding of the science of human energy regulation and optimization.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
So energy in the basic sense. Usually we think of the mitochondria. Right? So if you can go a little bit into what is mitochondria? What do they do? How is it so important to energy production?Ari Whitten:
First of all, I think our understanding of things being mitochondria centric is actually a new thing. So 10 years ago, when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and I was dealing with that, and I was seeing all kinds of practitioners, no one was talking to me about mitochondria. The conventional medical doctors really have nothing to offer people with chronic fatigue. They've got, you know, stimulants and antidepressants and not much else. They don't have a coherent understanding of what's causing it. Within the alternative natural health, functional medicine space, everybody was talking to me about adrenal fatigue. So I was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue and put on adrenal supplements. Everybody was focused on that. The big thing to understand about mitochondria is, if we think back to our high school and college biology classes, people were taught that mitochondria were these energy generators that take in food we eat, mainly carbs and fats, and use those carbs and fats to run them through these processes and this electron transport chain they use to produce cellular energy in the form of ATP. That's how we learn about them. They're the powerhouses of the cell, and they produce energy. And that's like sort of this paradigm of mitochondria as mindless energy generators. And while all of that's true that they are energy generators, and responsible for all of the energy production in the trillions of cells in our body. The story that they're just energy generators is really incomplete. In the last five or 10 years, there's been a revolution in our understanding of mitochondria, what they are, what they do. And it turns out that they have an entire second role beyond energy production. We've known about mitochondria for a long time and you can look at them under a microscope and study them. The bioenergetics of them, how they produce energy, all of that's been well known. But what hasn't been known is that they have this other role, in cellular defense. Mitochondria are not just energy generators, they are exquisitely sensitive environmental sensors. They are basically like the canaries in the coal mine of our body. And their job is to constantly be taking samples of what's going on inside the cell, what's going on inside the body. To ask one question, in particular, are we under attack? Is there some kind of stress or danger present, that is putting the body in threat? And this is the key to understand to the degree that they are picking up on threats, they are turning down the dial on energy production. So if you think of it like this, mitochondria have two basic roles in the body, energy production and cell defense. And those two roles are mutually exclusive. So mitochondria are not just mindless energy generators, they are energy regulators, meaning they are deciding whether or not to produce energy and how much energy they should be producing. In other words, whether they should be more In Energy Mode, or cell defense mode, and to the degree that they are picking up on dangerous or various kinds of stressors in the body. They are turning down energy production and shifting resources towards cell defense and your energy levels. You as a person has a collection of trillions of cells, with each with hundreds to 1000s of mitochondria in them that are responsible for producing virtually all the energy that powers those cells,. You on the macro level, are feeling the subjective state of either having lots of energy, or very little energy, chronic fatigue, for example, and that the energy that you feel is a function of the degree to which your mitochondria are either In Energy Mode or defense mode.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
So it's a lot of information. And it's new science, like you said, which is really exciting. Where we always think that yes, my energy packets come from the mitochondria. But now you're talking about self defense. Can you explain a little, does the mitochondria go around looking for these toxins? Or what are they usually defending against, generally?Ari Whitten:
Mitochondria are not immune cells. They're not part of the white blood cells that are munching up pathogens. They are what Robert Navio, who is an MD PhD, who runs a lab for mitochondrial medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who is the scientist who has figured out this role of mitochondria. He calls them the central hub of the wheel of metabolism. There are many papers published on the role of mitochondria in innate immune function. So mitochondria don't kill off pathogens, they're present inside cells, detecting the presence of stressors that are present in the body. Those stressors could be anything from pathogens to environmental toxins, to sleep deprivation to psychological stress to poor sleep and circadian rhythm disruption to poor nutrition. And really any type of stressor you can imagine. The mitochondria can sense the presence of those stressors. And the reason that it can send such a diverse array of stressors is primarily because most stressors can be reduced down. In terms of the biochemical level, to a few different mechanisms, oxidative stress, increased inflammation, or inflammatory cytokines, and cellular damage, mitochondria pick up on those signals of oxidative stress, inflammation and cellular damage. And in response to those signals, they then send out their own signaling cascade, something called retrograde signaling, where they are sending signals to the nucleus of the cell as far as what genes to express and what genes to turn off. Okay, so mitochondria are regulating all kinds of other metabolic responses, including immune responses. In response to a pathogen, for example, let's say you've got an infection, mitochondria are sensing that now they've turned down the dial on energy production. Well, if that sounds obscure to you think of the last time you had a cold or a flu or COVID. What was one of the main symptoms of it, it was fatigue, right? Well, that's what's happening. So mitochondria are sensing the presence of that pathogen, they're turning down energy production, shifting resources towards cell defense, by signaling for the immune system to be active for inflammatory cytokines to go up, and so on. They're sealing off cells so that pathogens don't have easy access. So they're shutting down somewhat the communication between cells, and they're essentially going to war, including things like if a cell is infected with a virus, let's say, the mitochondria detect its presence and start producing huge amounts of reactive oxygen. These are free radicals to destroy pathogen inside the cell. Okay, so that's what it means to turn down energy production and shift resources towards cell defense. But in addition to what's going on in each cell, they're also sending signals out throughout the body that are coordinating widespread metabolic responses to that stressor.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
So they're like a general, that is basically telling their army what to do. Is that what you're saying? Based on the signals that come in, right? So it sounds like a very important role for the mitochondria to play? And so how can you test for it? Or is it just hey, if you're fatigued, you're going to have mitochondrial function?Ari Whitten:
I guess it's a good question without a great answer. There are a few tests that exist for testing mitochondrial health. I would say they're all pretty imperfect. There are indirect tests like organic acid test that can tell you some things. There are Mito swab test, which you can swab the inside of your mouth and you can get some insight into mitochondrial function. There's an ATP profile test that was created by some chronic fatigue researchers in the UK. The truth is, we probably won't have great testing for this. And until the use of metabolomics tests become more widespread where you can do blood panels that track 5-6 different metabolites. Because we know from metabolomic studies on people with chronic fatigue, that there is a signature for this. There is a particular kind of signature as far as what these hundreds of different biomarkers look like in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, for example. We also know that this is true in the case of the gut microbiome. We know that people with chronic fatigue syndrome have a kind of a gut microbiome signature, that is predictive of chronic fatigue. They have lower rates of bifidobacteria, for example.We know that they have lower amounts of short chain fatty acid producing bacteria, things like butyrate producing bacteria, and we know that they have higher amounts of LPS endotoxin containing bacteria and signatures of gut permeability. So there's actually a study that's been done where they used a computer program to analyze these different markers of the gut microbiome, and they found that this computer program just using gut microbiome data, and nothing else can predict with 90% accuracy, whether someone is healthy or whether they have chronic fatigue syndrome. Just by looking at these biomarkers related to the gut microbiome. So there are definitely things going on there. But I wouldn't say that there's one specific test, that is really a great test for fatigue, or chronic fatigue specifically, or even for mitochondrial health in particular. Keep in mind also, when it comes to mitochondria, part of what I'm talking about, isn't necessarily even saying that the mitochondria themselves are dysfunctional. That is going on, and there is plenty of evidence to support that, but they're turning down the dial on energy production and shifting to defense mode. It's overlapping, but it's somewhat distinct from say, hey, the mitochondria are totally dysfunctional. And that's the reason for your fatigue. It's more than due to the presence of environmental or lifestyle stressors, the mitochondria are shifting out of energy mode towards defense mode. And that's something we don't really have a test for.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
So you talked now about the stressors that are turning the mitochondria to cellular defense. So how do we help our patients and readers of your book to be able to go through and see how we can fix dysfunctional mitochondria?Ari Whitten:
Yeah. So there's many different lifestyle factors that play into this. This discussion, you know, could be very broad. So we could talk about environmental toxins, we could talk about gut health, we can talk about hormetic stress, which is a big one. And that's how transient stressors, transient metabolic stressors, work to support and build your mitochondria by challenging them. We could talk about circadian rhythm and sleep. We could talk about light deficiencies and toxicities and all the different wavelengths of light that are bioactive. I've also written a book pretty much the book on red and near infrared light therapy. That's another thing that plays into this. But the new book that's coming out really focuses heavily on nutrition specifically, so what are the nutritional factors that are sending our mitochondria into defense mode and causing fatigue. There are five main ones. Circadian rhythm is one that has a light component to it. Other strong nutritional component, body composition, blood sugar levels, both hyper and hypoglycemia, gut health and brain health. And so based on those factors, those sort of five key factors, what people are doing wrong there, those are factors that are contributing to fatigue. So I'm happy to dive into any one of those that you want to jump into and talk some specifics.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
I think all those five that you talked about are very important, but I think we know a lot and we discuss with our patients a lot already about the gut. And then environmental toxins, too. So maybe you can dive into talking about circadian rhythm and nutrition.Ari Whitten:
the circadian rhythm, not only through the light receptors, blue light, and I'm not sure if you would say just reduce or be more mindful about the amount of blue light that we're exposing ourselves to, especially in the evening. Because that does affect our growth hormone, and melatonin levels. Then also about nutrition and, the part that it plays in autophagy. And intermittent fasting, if it's around 16 hours of fasting, and then eating between six to 10 hours of eating your meals within that time. So it gives your mitochondria time to clean up. So those are good tips on how to help the circadian rhythm part of the energy. And that you described a lot more in your book. And so I was wondering also, if you can just go in very briefly, about how supplements can play a part in healing the mitochondria? Is it good? Is it only like nutrition? Or do we need to be able to support our body in a certain way using supplements? Yeah, great question. So, you know, I mentioned earlier I've been studying health science for a long time since I was a little kid. And over that time, I was convinced of certain things, and I had certain belief systems and ideologies. I've done every extreme diet you can imagine. And at each point in that journey, I've been convinced that's the one right diet. You know, it's keto. or vegan or a meat based carnivore diet, lectin free diet, paleo or Mediterranean, you know. So, I've seen a lot of things change over that time, one of the beliefs that I had at some point in that journey was supplements are not necessary, and that you can get everything that you need from your diet. Well, it has a grain of truth in it. And I would say it's largely misguided and it's not high quality thinking. Here's what I mean by that. In terms of supplying your body's nutrients, the necessary nutrients that it needs to function, the essential nutrients we need in order for the body to function. You could say, well, it's better to get those things from your diet. Well, except that the modern diet is largely deficient in many of those things. So even when researchers analyze different common meal plans out there, different common diets from South Beach, to Mediterranean, to this to that. Many vitamin and nutrient deficiencies are extremely common. We also know that the average American, we know that over about 90% of people are deficient in vitamin D, and vitamin E. So when we look at deficiencies and other nutrients, whether we're talking about magnesium, whether we're talking about Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, things like that, deficiencies also are in, you know, in B vitamins, deficiencies are in between 30, 50 60% of people. So when in terms of each one of those things, when you do the math on that, you realize that most individuals are probably deficient in at least three, or five or eight different vitamins and minerals. And this is just talking about essential vitamins and minerals. So we also know when it comes to chronic fatigue, or when it comes to just people more broadly, we know that the use of a comprehensive multivitamin and mineral formula is linked with a 6% decrease in mortality. There's robust evidence to support that. We know that in the context of people with chronic fatigue, specifically, just a few months of using multivitamin and multi mineral formula has been shown to increase energy levels by almost 40%. In the span of about a few months just by supplying these nutrients that are that most people are commonly deficient in. So I don't see a strong argument against using those compounds. Like there isn't an equally strong array of evidence saying, well, these people experienced health benefits by going off their multivitamin mineral supplement. But we do have evidence to say that using those things are linked with decreased rates of diseases, longer lifespan, and more importantly, for our context here, higher energy levels in those with chronic fatigue. So I think there's a very strong and compelling argument against the position of avoiding supplements. Now, that is just to discuss essential nutrients. Now, if we start to talk about well, there's other compounds in certain herbs, and in certain other supplements that aren't in this category of essential nutrients. Let's say as an example, Gynostemma, which is an adaptogenic herb that comes from Asia, or Rhodiola rosea, called Golden root that comes from, I think, mainly Siberia. These provide compounds that have very clear, profound benefits to human physiology, but aren't essential nutrients. You cannot find them in any other foods, they are uniquely in only those substances. So in other words, there are substances that you cannot replace with just eating a healthy diet. You don't get the compounds and Rhodiola rosea by eating romaine lettuce, you get them by only from Rhodiola rosea. So we have evidence, for example, on acetyl L carnitine. In older adults with chronic fatigue, showing 40 to 50% reductions in levels of mental fatigue, and physical fatigue and overall fatigue severity, in the span of just a few months of just using that one formula. We know there's another compound called NT factors, which is a phospholipid supplement that basically works to replace damaged phospholipids in mitochondrial membranes. We have numerous studies and people with all kinds of fatigue from old age, chronic fatigue syndrome, fatigue from obesity, fatigue from Gulf War illness, and we know that using that supplement for just a month or two, increases energy levels very reliably, and people with chronic fatigue by 30, 40, 50%. Just not making any other change, but taking that one supplement. And again, these are things that you you're not going to get in the same level with just eating a healthy diet no matter how healthy the diet is. In the case of NT factors, unless you're consuming the most phospholipid food that rich foods on the planet like let's say salmon roe, you're just not going to get those substances. Do you want to jump in with a question?Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
It's always good to keep in mind that don't just try supplements, by yourselves. I would always recommend that you ask your practitioner or someone who understands your body because I've had patients who actually did not do well on adaptogens because they just jumped into it and they did not know the dosing or the right way to do it. So always you know, ask your doctor and if you don't know you can always consult whether it's already or consult me but there are people out there that understand what you're going through. Foods are just usually way more safer. But a lot of times I tell my patients, I can't tell you to eat 60 oranges for you to get the right amount of vitamin C you know, and so Yeah, supplements definitely have a use, and you have to use them correctly. And so I'm glad you're bringing up these, these really exciting, researched types of supplements to be able to help people with chronic fatigue. So yeah, what else is there?Ari Whitten:
So, a couple other examples. You know, if I can comment on everything you said, I agree with you, I do think that's also generally true of most things, though. So it's also the case that someone could overdo sun exposure, you know, and get sunburned. It's also the case that someone could start an exercise regimen and overdo it radically and cause a huge amount of muscle damage and be terribly sore or injure themselves. You know, it's always good whenever you implement anything, to research it and know what you're doing and have a good understanding of what is the appropriate dosage. How do I do this correctly? You know, I think that rule applies across the board. I mean, even something as innocuous as water, if you drink two gallons of water in the next 10 minutes, you cause permanent brain damage and maybe put yourself into a coma or die. So it's definitely across the board. It's important to do things well and to know what you're doing. A couple other ones worth mentioning here. Panax Ginseng is another great compound. Lots of evidence to show that improves mitochondrial function and improves energy levels and those with chronic fatigue. EGCG from tea from green tea, or black tea, is another compound that has widespread beneficial effects on modulating mitochondrial function improving mitochondrial biogenesis to the creation of more mitochondria from scratch. Astaxanthin is a wonderful compound. That's a carotenoid, that comes from algae. This is the pink carotenoid that accumulates up the food chain and other animals. This is why salmon are pink. This is why flamingos are pink. Just like it accumulates and salmon and turns their tissues pink, it also bioaccumulates in our bodies, where it has all kinds of beneficial effects. It has a unique effect on mitochondria because unlike most antioxidants, that sort of either function inside or outside the mitochondria, astaxanthin actually has a unique chemical structure that allows it to embed itself across mitochondrial membranes and stabilize mitochondrial membranes and protect them from damage. And if the mechanisms are not impressive enough to you, there are many studies showing that it improves energy levels. It improves sports performance increases recovery from exercise, and many other benefits. Also, it acts as an internal sunscreen and accumulates in your skin and protects your skin from UV damage. PQQ is another one, I think the full name for the substances. It's a mouthful. It's something like pyrroloquinoline quinone, but PQQ for short. It's one of the most powerful stimulators of mitochondrial biogenesis. Again, that's the creation of more mitochondria from scratch. So those are some of the more important ones that I'll mention here, but all of them have proven benefits in the context of increasing energy levels in the context of people with chronic fatigue.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
Well, thank you for all those pearls. Ari, we are so glad to have you on The Dr. Lam Show as we have these practical tips in order to help people out there that are listening on how to help their chronic fatigue with whether it's supplements or lifestyle tips. So any last words for them? Where can listeners find your book?Ari Whitten:
Yeah, go on Amazon, grab my book. It's called Eat for energy. And it's going to be out on May 10. And you're going to learn a whole bunch more than what I covered here. This is really just scratching the surface. The book goes into in depth on circadian rhythm optimization strategies, body composition, optimization strategies on blood sugar optimization strategies for anybody who's struggling with either high or low blood sugar or fluctuations, as well as gut health and brain health. And it's basically an encyclopedia on all the top supplements for boosting mitochondrial health and boosting sleep for neurotransmitter optimization, and so much more.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
And what are your social media or website?Ari Whitten:
I don't do much on social media, but my website is the energyblueprint.com Okay.Dr. Carrie Lam, MD:
All right. So we're so glad to have you on The Dr. Lam Show. If you've liked it, make sure you subscribe and share it with those who think really need to hear this. We hope you stay tuned for our next episode. We'll see you next time.Unknown:
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