Referred to as the powerhouse of the cell, mitochondria are tiny organelles with a large responsibility. Located within nearly every cell of the body, mitochondria are responsible for generating over 90% of the body’s total energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.1 And within each cell, there are roughly 1,000-2,500 mitochondria based on energy demand.2 The nervous, cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems have been historically identified as being the highest in mitochondrial demand. However, recent research now shows that in addition to meeting energy demand, mitochondria also play a significant role in exercise performance, tissue and joint health, and healthy aging of the musculoskeletal system.

Have You Considered Mitochondria When Addressing Your Patients’ Musculoskeletal Health?

In response to regular physical activity, mitochondria exhibit adaptations in volume, structure and function to match energy demand and provide optimal ATP supply to muscle and connective tissue cells that comprise the musculoskeletal system.3 Consider your patients who are slow to recover from exercise, have muscular aches and pains, or are chronically fatigued. Also consider your athletes, exercise enthusiasts, or those who want to start working out. To meet the high energy demand of being an athlete, recovering from an intense workout, or preparing the body to handle and adapt to increased activity, patients require healthy mitochondria that can meet these demands. This act of mitochondrial biogenesis also contributes to lipid metabolism and decreases apoptotic susceptibility in skeletal muscle, aiding the body in maintaining healthy muscle mass.4

But did you know that mitochondria also play an essential role in chondrocyte metabolism necessary for maintaining healthy, functional joints? They directly provide ATP for chondrocytes found within intervertebral discs and articular cartilage that produce extracellular matrix and provide cushioning in joint movement.5 They also aid in regulating extracellular protein synthesis and matrix stability within joint cartilage.6

The Negative Impact of Mitochondrial Dysfunction on Joint and Disc Health

During the process of energy production, mitochondria produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that contribute to oxidative stress within the cell. Under normal conditions, these reactive oxygen species are scavenged by antioxidant reserves within the body and neutralized. However, when antioxidant reserves are low due to primary or secondary factors such as medication intake, poor dietary and lifestyle habits, stress, infection, and environmental toxin exposures, an overabundance of ROS occurs and leads to mitochondrial damage and dysfunction. This dysfunction has been shown to play a significant role in musculoskeletal pathological mechanisms such as muscle atrophy in response to decreased physical activity,7 sarcopenia due to disruption in protein homeostasis,8 intervertebral disc degeneration,9 osteoarthritis,10 and rheumatoid arthritis.11 Therefore, it is imperative to consider mitochondrial health when addressing musculoskeletal health to help prevent or slow the progression of these degenerative disorders.

Improve the Health of Your Patients’ Mitochondria Naturally

The health of mitochondria relies on regular physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices such as staying hydrated, having a regular sleep schedule, consuming foods rich in color, fiber, and phytonutrients, decreasing environmental toxin exposure and lowering and managing stress levels appropriately.  Additionally, supplementation with nutrients such as acetyl L-carnitine12, N-acetyl cysteine,13 alpha lipoic acid,14 resveratrol,15 broccoli seed extract16 and B vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B6, B7 and B12 have shown to help enhance mitochondrial function and ATP production.17 Unfortunately, there are factors that are outside of our control such as genetics and age that play a role in mitochondrial decline and dysfunction, but with the right tools and proper education we can help our patients improve the health of their mitochondria and ultimately slow the process of degeneration naturally.

For more information on addressing mitochondrial dysfunction with lifestyle and nutrition, download this free white paper.


Claire Kacena, DC is the Musculoskeletal and Immune Clinical Brand Manager at Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center and a board-certified Chiropractor.  She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from Loyola University Chicago in 2010 and then went on to receive her Doctor of Chiropractic from National University of Health Sciences in 2015. Currently, Dr. Kacena is pursuing her diplomate in clinical nutrition.


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