By Dr. Barry Sears
Within every cell lie the remnants of that ancient bacterial invasion the made multi-cellular life possible more than one billion years ago. These bacterial remnants are called mitochondria and they are the primary generators of ATP, the energy molecule needed to maintain metabolism. Cells that require a lot of energy (like the nerve cells, muscles, and the liver) have thousands of mitochondria in each cell. This is because they are constantly in demand for energy so the organ can do its job efficiently. Without adequate levels of ATP, life at the cellular level quickly grinds to a halt. Yet as important as ATP is to our survival, we can only store a small amount of this energy currency, meaning that much of the energy that keeps us alive is made on demand.
So having healthy mitochondria is essential to having a healthy life.
It is best to think of mitochondria as mini-nuclear reactions. They take in chemicals (i.e. fats and carbs) and convert them to energy. In the process, they produce a lot of radiation (i.e. free radicals). This is why the lifetime of mitochondria is only about two weeks before they are damaged and have to be replaced. If they aren’t replaced at an optimal rate then your ability to create energy needed for any functioning cell is diminished. If this happens to enough cells in an organ, this becomes a driving factor for developing chronic disease, especially if you also have high levels of inflammation in the same organ.
AMP Kinase to the Rescue
One key to a longer life is the rapid generation of new healthy mitochondria. Since mitochondria were originally derived from bacteria, their regeneration is controlled by simply splitting themselves into new healthy mitochondria, but only if they receive the right signal. That signal is the activation of the enzyme known as AMP kinase. Once you increase the levels of this enzyme, you retake control of your metabolism and more importantly the fate of the mitochondria in every cell in your body. AMP kinase activates both the generation (i.e. biogenesis) of new healthy mitochondria as well as removing (i.e. autophagy) the damaged mitochondria in the cell in a controlled way that prevents the cell from undergoing apoptosis.
Using The Zone Diet To Live Longer
The activation of AMP kinase is controlled by the diet. One approach is to practice calorie restriction without malnutrition for the rest of your life. This is the foundation of the Zone Diet. The other approach is to ingest large amounts of polyphenols. These are chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color.This is another key component of the Zone Diet. When you combine them together, you produce optimal levels of AMP kinase.
The Keys to Healthy Aging
Anti-aging is an often-abused term. Since aging is natural, anti-aging makes no sense. The ideal goal is to have healthy aging by significantly delaying the development of chronic disease, and ideally for a lifetime. That’s easy to accomplish if you are willing to practice calorie restriction coupled with a high intake of polyphenols for a lifetime. The combination of these two dietary strategies reduces the intensity of the initiation of inflammation, which is the underlying cause of chronic disease. In addition, the more you restrict calories and at the same time consume more polyphenols to activate AMP kinase, the less omega-3 fatty acids you need to resolve any remaining inflammation.
This new understanding of the role in mitochondrial health fits in well with the triad of healthy aging:
- Calorie restriction without hunger or fatigue.
- High intakes of polyphenols.
- Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
The sooner you start, the longer and better you are going to live.
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