Each cell in our body is made up of trillions of atoms. In each cell there are various tiny cellular structures that perform specific tasks and functions. These groups are known as organelles. Their name explains what they do very well – what organelles perform inside the cell is similar to the role organs perform in our body. One of the most important organelles within each cell is the mitochondria, which are found in all cells with the exception of red blood cells. Their job is to provide energy to the rest of the cell. If each body cell were a city, mitochondria would be the energy plant or electricity board. If a cell were a toy, the mitochondria would be the battery that brings it to life. Alongside the nucleus (another vital organelles that holds our DNA), maintaining healthy mitochondria is vital to our health and wellbeing.
While mitochondria organelles can use glucose as an energy source, they actually prefer to use fat. It is now believed that looking after these key components to each cell and feeding them what they like to eat – healthy fats – is of paramount importance to a healthy body. By example let’s consider multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system breaks down and starts attacking the central nervous system. When Dr Terry Wahls became wheelchair bound, she decided to take matters into her own hands and began researching the effects of nutrition. In her brilliantly insightful book, Minding My Mitochondria, while introducing her readers to what they do she says, “If those little maintenance workers don’t have all the proper nutrients, like amino acids, then they can’t build according to the DNA blueprints”. In other words, the mitochondria, the powerhouse of each cell, must receive the right nutrients.
Some cells have just a handful of internal mitochondria, while others like those in our brains can have hundreds. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of our entire body weight can be attributed to mitochondria. One of their most vital tasks is their role in informing the rest of the cell when it is time to die. If cells don’t die at the appropriate time, and instead continue growing, they can become a cancerous tumour.