In today’s interview I get to speak with a Canadian licensed naturopathic doctor, Dr Lee Know, about mitochondria and why they are indispensable for our overall health and longevity.
Lee is a very passionate ‘mitochondriac’ and natural health promoter.
In today’s interview we get a chance to talk about his latest book and what he learnt from the current scientific research on mitochondria and what he recommends on how to optimize the health of these little power-houses, which are so essential to good health.
If you know someone who is interested in learning more about mitochondria and why they are so vital to our wellbeing, as well as getting tips on how to keep them healthy, this interview is for them.
I enjoyed this interview as I am always keen to find out more about the inner workings of the human body and what we can do to implement this knowledge in our day-to-day lives.
After speaking with Lee, I have a much better understanding of how mitochondria work and how their functioning is linked to numerous diseases and our general wellbeing. I also learned some great essential tips I can use to help keep my mitochondria in good shape.
Special thanks to Lee for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!
Show Notes with Timestamp Links
Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:
Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio.
[00:20] – Introducing Dr Lee Know, a licensed naturopathic doctor based in Canada who held positions as medical advisor, scientific evaluator and director of research and development for various organizations. He is also the author of Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine: The Key to Understanding Disease, Chronic Illness, Aging and Life Itself.
[00:58] – We start by discussing different definitions of the term ‘mitochondriac’ and explaining what mitochondria are as well as the vital role they play in our body.
[03:50] – There are three phases of energy production. First is glycolysis – the first phase happens outside of mitochondria producing the end product which gets transferred into the mitochondria for the next two phases. Second is the Krebs cycle or the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. Third is the electron transport chain (ETC) which is the last phase of energy production where energy in the form of ATP is produced.
[05:52] – Electrons are important at a cellular level. In the mitochondria they can have significant benefits; electrons are transferred from one complex to the next to create ATP and are vital in that role. The problems happen when these electrons spill out of the ETC prematurely creating harmful free radicals. It is important to make that distinction as free radicals usually have negative connotations associated to them, but they are not always a bad thing.
[07:22] – The spectrum of mitochondrial dysfunction ranges from very mild lack of energy that often goes unnoticed to very severe cases where children are born with serious energy deficiencies. Lee explains how, with the exception of those with genetic mitochondrial disease, we are all born with healthy mitochondria. However, some of us, due to various genetic defects, may be more sensitive to environmental influences which can affect the energy production and often progresses very slowly.
[10:00] – Lee shares some common causes that damage the functioning of mitochondria including pesticides, artificial food colours, pharmaceutical drugs like certain classes of antibiotics and statins, as well as the oversupply of energy. Overeating and being sedentary are linked to so many degenerative health conditions. Lee explains what happens when there is too much supply for the demand.
[14:04] – How to know you are over-consuming food? Without an access to lab equipment and laboratory testing this can be quite difficult to determine as people can look physically fit and still have an oversupply of food. Lee suggests monitoring our food consumption and being mindful of overeating.
[15:10] – How does intermittent fasting (which has the effect of calorie restriction) affect mitochondria? The newest research shows mitochondria and its functioning determine our lifespan. Lee explains how calorie restriction can be beneficial and why we should avoid eating right before bed when we are not expending energy. (Biohackers Lab Tip: Also see interview with circadian biologist Elyse van Spyk + it’s interesting how Gary’s sleep tracking Oura ring knows when he has eaten too late.)
[17:49] – In addition to oversupply there is the issue of not having enough demand for the energy your body produces due to a sedentary lifestyle. Because the building blocks of ATP are an ADP molecule + a P molecule, the only way to get the ADP back is to use up the ATP by being active. By being sedentary we run out of building blocks to create ATP and therefore ATP slows down or even shuts down creating a back-log all the way down the ETC. This means more harmful free radicals, too! Physical activity is extremely important to keep the energy cycle functioning properly.
[21:00] – General movement is enough to use up ATP. High intensity exercise is not necessary in this case. Lee explains how the length of time we sit in a day is an independent risk factor that is directly correlated with risk of various health conditions (even for fit, athletic individuals who undertake burst of intense physical exercise). Setting up a fidget desk that facilitates movement throughout the day might be a good idea to help combat the long periods of inactivity.
[22:41] – However, Lee emphasises that getting moderate-intensity physical activity is the single greatest thing we can do for mitochondrial health because it generates more mitochondria. He explains how, as long as we don’t overdo it, healthy stress put on our cells during exercise stimulates mitochondrial production. But why do we want more mitochondria? Lee explains how by decreasing the load for each mitochondrion at rest means less of the damaging free radicals. Over a lifespan, there are significant health benefits for individuals undertaking an exercise program.
[25:52] – If we then become more sedentary again we start to lose some mitochondria. This negative adaptation takes only a few weeks to happen so it is important that we are consistently physically active.
[26:44] – Most of the mitochondria are in the heart and the brain. This fact links nicely to the common advice we get about exercise being important for cardiovascular health and brain health, too. Lee explains how almost any study that shows health benefits to the heart can often be extrapolated to the brain as well.
[28:34] – Lee explains how the number of mitochondria that are present in different cells of the body is dependent on the energy demand of those cells. Interestingly the only cells in the body that don’t have mitochondria are the red blood cells.
[30:07] – When discussing diet in terms of mitochondria, Lee explains that this is where the concept of n=1 comes into play and depending on the individual there are a number of different diets that could be beneficial. He illustrates this point by sharing his own personal experience with artificial food colouring vs the results of a Southampton study.
[34:28] – How does psychology and social interaction affect the ATP production and mitochondria. Does laughter therapy help? Is loneliness a factor? We discuss how important cognition, as well as mental and emotional states, are and the potential benefits they could have on mitochondrial health.
[36:49] – How does EMF impact us on our cellular level? There is a huge amount of studies coming out about mitochondria (see PubMed), a number of which deal with EMF and how the modern lifestyle negatively impacts our mitochondria. Earthing is a simple actionable tip for electron transfer anyone can do. (Biohackers Lab Tip: Listen to Scott Compton share how to reduce your daily EMF exposure)
[39:55] – Supplements! One of Lee’s favourite supplements is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – a vitamin-like nutrient. Our bodies can produce all the CoQ10 that we need. However, because the production of CoQ10 starts to decrease as we age, external sources from food and supplements become more important. This means that most people don’t need to start to supplement until their 30’s onward. Lee explains the vital role CoQ10 in ETC and reducing harmful free radicals, as well as the benefits for fertility.
[46:22] – Long-term use of CoQ10 does not affect the body’s natural ability to produce the CoQ10, but it does need to be taken daily to get the benefits. The idea is to get blood levels to 2,5 mg/mL and the dose that is needed to achieve this level will vary dramatically from person to person. Lee shares some methods we might be able to test for levels of CoQ10 and explains why 100-200 mg per day is enough for most healthy individuals. Studies are mostly done with people suffering from different health conditions it appears to be safe and shows no toxic effects.
[54:04] – For more information on mitochondrial health check out Lee’s book: Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine or visit Lee visit his website: leeknow.com or Twitter: @LeeKnow3D