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New Cause of Chronic Fatigue Identified: Mitochondrial Dysfunction

For many people over 40, episodes of fatigue are not uncommon. For many, having low energy is a chronic problem for which they’ve been to doctor after doctor trying to find a reason for their prolonged state of fatigue. Other symptoms may include depression, muscle pain, brain fog, weight gain, hypoglycemia, or digestive problems. Many times these patients say that they “just don’t feel well.”

Frequently patients are prescribed one or more medications to treat their symptoms. They will often describe sensitivities to their medications and may suffer from side effects. These may include strong reactions to odors and perfumes, artificial sweeteners, food preservatives, alcohol, and other chemicals.

What scientists are discovering is that many of these people actually suffer from a condition called ‘Mitochondrial Dysfunction.’  Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. They are included as one of the sub-cellar structures found within our cells and contain DNA. Visible only under a microscope, mitochondria are responsible for generating your bodies’ energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). More importantly, they are susceptible to damage from free radicals and toxins. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been implicated in many diseases including diabetes, atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, poor attention, memory loss, fatty liver disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the past 10 years, chronic fatigue syndrome has received significant media attention. It is still not known whether this syndrome represents one disease process or several diseases that cause similar sets of symptoms. The common symptom of debilitating fatigue may represent impairment of the production of mitochondrial ATP.

It is well established by medical science that nutritional deficiencies can cause your mitochondria to dysfunction and may lead to fatigue and other disorders. Vitamins, minerals, and other metabolites act as necessary cofactors for the synthesis of mitochondrial enzymes that support proper function. Vital nutrients include adequate amounts of copper, iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, L-carnitine, lipoic acid,CoQ10,B vitamins, and several essential amino acids.

These key nutrients, along with your dietary intake of carbohydrates, fats and protein, combine in your bodies’ central energy producing pathway called the Citric Acid Cycle (CAC). The CAC takes place in your mitochondria. The CAC is the final pathway where energy is released from the food and nutrients we consume. A breakdown or malfunction of your CAC is also capable of causing toxin accumulation. Therefore, proper function of these complex metabolic processes is imperative to good health.

Diets rich in antioxidants are thought to enhance energy cycle production. This includes a combination of foods high in flavonoids, polyphenols, and carotenoids (brightly colored fruits and vegetables including berries, sweet potatoes and kale). Additional benefits can be derived from consuming foods containing quality sources of marine oils, cumin, blue green algae, and whey protein. These foods have been shown to increase levels of the powerful mitochondrial revitalizing antioxidant called Glutathione.

Modern laboratory testing can now assist your health care provider in assessing the function of your body’s energy production pathways. Urinary Organic Acid testing can also help pinpoint specific amino acid, B vitamin and nutrient mineral deficiencies you may have. These deficiencies can cause blockages or interruptions in your body’s energy production cycle and contribute to fatigue.

Organic Acid Testing can also help evaluate toxin accumulation and breakdown in the body, both of which can contribute to disease and fatigue. It is a simple test that is conducted at home with a urine collection kit. After collection, the specimen is sent to the laboratory and the results are received by your health care provider. From this assessment your provider will be able to pinpoint specific nutrient deficiencies which may be contributing to your fatigue and other illness. A customized nutrient formula and nutritional plan can then be prepared to address these deficiencies and facilitate proper energy production.

We can combat episodic fatigue and chronic low energy through nutritional analysis and identifying what our body needs to boost energy production.  Remember, PRO-ACTIVE HEALTH CARE is the key to vitality, wellness and longevity.

Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group 760.776.0022

Resources: (1) Lord,Bralley,laboratory evaluations for integrative and functional medicine(2008); (2) Integrative medicine,vol.5,no.3,June 2006; (3)Journal of applied nutrition,vol.46,no.3 1994

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