Our Mighty Mitochondria

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

April 16, 2023 [printfriendly]

Have you seen the TV commercial of the “Energizer Bunny”? The bunny is buzzing all over the place beating its drum because it is full of energy. The reason is its battery is strong and efficient.

Our mitochondria (pleural for mitochondrion) are like the batteries of the “Energizer Bunny”, and they provide energy for our cells. But if the mitochondria in a cell weaken or become damaged, the cell will not have enough energy to continue its job in the body. The analogy would be the “Energizer Bunny” would run out of steam and stop dead in its tracks.


The Mitochondria Story

So, what are these mitochondria and where did they come from. The story is like a science fiction tale.

A long, long time ago – about 4 billion years ago – life began on earth as a single-celled organism with no nucleus.[1] Then fast forward 2 billion years.

About 2 billion years ago, bacteria were among the first living organisms. Some of these single-celled bacteria fed on organic compounds to create energy. These bacteria created carbon dioxide and hydrogen as waste products. Other single-celled organisms in existence at the same time fed only on carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Then, an extraordinary and life-changing event occurred.

A few of the bacteria producing energy from organic compounds successfully entered some of these single-celled organisms, which could not create their own energy from organic compounds. Eventually, these bacteria set up shop in their host cells. The invading bacterial cells created energy for their single-celled host organisms. Now the host cells, with a self-contained energy source from the resident bacteria, could evolve into multi-celled and more-complex entities. The gradual development of these structures eventually led to the makeup of our human cells, each with a self-contained energy-production machine. The origin of this energy-production machine was ancient bacteria. These organelles are called mitochondria.

Every cell in our body, except for red blood cells, has mitochondria to create the energy to keep it alive. The mitochondria are embedded within the cytoplasm of our 30 trillion human cells. Some individual cells have only a few mitochondria; our most active cells (like heart muscle) may contain as many as 2,400 mitochondria per cell. If these bacteria-like structures in our body’s cells did not function properly, we would get sick – very sick – and eventually would die.


Functions of Mitochondria

As I’ve said, the mitochondria primarily are the batteries of the cell. If the batteries fail, the cell ultimately dies. However, energy production is not the only purpose of our mitochondria.[2]

Mitochondria also produce heat as necessary, assist in calcium signaling within the host cell and throughout the body, and will induce cell death (apoptosis) when its host cell is damaged beyond repair. In addition, mitochondria regulate insulin in the cell, synthesize cholesterol and other steroids, and participate in other functions required by specialized cells. Another critical function of mitochondria is to interact intimately with other organelles of the cell, especially peroxisomes, to create cellular homeostasis.[3]  

As a waste product, mitochondria produce free radicals, which must be neutralized. Excess free radicals could damage the mitochondria beyond repair. For example, a liver cell would not be able to function as a healthy liver cell; a brain cell would not be able to function as a healthy brain cell; a gum tissue cell would not be able to function as a healthy gum tissue cell. In some situations, the cell might begin to replicate out-of-control and become cancerous.


Gum Disease & Mitochondria

When everything is working correctly, the mitochondria are healthy and functioning at the top of their game. Problems develop when our mitochondria are compromised. Gum disease is one result of dysfunction in the mitochondria within gum tissue cells.

In this peer-reviewed paper, unhealthy mitochondria were associated with gingivitis and advanced stages of periodontal disease. In contrast, healthy and strong mitochondria might help prevent gingivitis, other forms of periodontal disease, and other chronic diseases.

This is important: It appears that active periodontal disease may be the direct result of specific virulent bacteria causing an overproduction of free radicals in the mitochondria of the gum tissue cells.

This also is critical to understand: When these free radicals are neutralized, the infection tends to be tamed and further destruction from periodontal disease may be reduced even though the bacteria are still present.

So, if something could neutralize the excessive damaging free radical production in the mitochondria of the gum tissues, the progression of periodontal disease might be halted.


Chronic Diseases, Cancers, & Mitochondria

There is additional research that suggests that cancer is a mitochondrial metabolic disease and not a genetic disease. Poor diet, lifestyle, and toxic exposure can damage mitochondrial function, which in turn increases metabolic disease.

If chronic diseases and cancers are mitochondrial metabolic diseases, then improving mitochondrial function and therapeutically changing what can damage these mitochondria could be important and effective methods of treatment.


Mitochondria & Health

So, it appears that healthy mitochondria are critical for our oral health, for our overall health, and for our existence. Healthy mitochondria are supported by nutrient-dense foods, efficient exercise, restorative sleep, and reduction of stress. If mitochondria are not firing on all cylinders, disease will occur.

Also, the gut microbiome is important for the health of mitochondria. The beneficial bacteria in the gut will produce butyrate and other short chain fatty acids from food. These metabolites from beneficial bacteria feed healthy mitochondria, support the cells that line the colon, and increase the diversity of healthy gut bacteria. Since ancient bacteria were the precursors of our modern-day mitochondria, the needs of the mitochondria in our cells are like the needs of healthy gut bacteria. There is “cross communication” between our gut microbiome and our mitochondria.

Another important nutrient in all of this is vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is produced by healthy gut bacteria. This vitamin is also available in some fermented foods, organ meats, egg yolks, and grass-fed dairy. Vitamin K2 appears to assist mitochondria by increasing their capacity to create energy.

So, what will cause mitochondria to malfunction? Mitochondria can become damaged and dysfunctional when required nutrients are not available from the gut, when the mitochondria produce excess free radicals that are not neutralized, and when mitochondria are unable to repair themselves or increase their numbers in their host cell. Also, specific environmental elements and medications can be toxic to mitochondria. These include xenoestrogens (estrogen imitators) in the environment, acetaminophen (Tylenol), statins (anti-cholesterol drugs), glyphosate (Roundup), and heavy metals like lead, mercury, and aluminum.

All the individual protocols in my Unconventional Cancer Protocols are designed to assist overall healing and improve mitochondrial function!


Keep Your Mitochondria Mighty

These little organelles in your cells are life sustaining sources of energy. Without their generation of efficient energy, your cells will die. If they are weakened, their cells will function at a lower level or not function at all.

Our mighty mitochondria can be improved through the integration of various modalities to change our diet, our environment, and our lifestyle habits. Here are some of those modalities that have been studied to support healthy mitochondrial function:

My discussion should help you appreciate the complexity and importance of your mitochondria as well as summarize some of the important lifestyle and diet changes you could make to improve your mighty mitochondria. Don’t look for a synthetic supplement or “pill” you can take to heal your mitochondria. It’s not possible. Creating healthy mitochondria is an integrative, whole-body effort.

If you have questions about what you need to do, I’m here to guide you along the right path of change.


[1] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1745691617718356

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4075653/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=10.1111%2Fggi.12296


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  1. You are amazing! Thanks for the continued updates & information!

  2. thanks for the information

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