by Dr. David Minkoff November 07, 2019 7 min read
If you search for “energy supplement” on amazon, you get over 4,000 results.
How can any reasonable human sift through all that and find the ones that work? Or which ones are bogus?
I did a deep dive into the truth about “increasing your energy” in another article. It gives you a framework for understanding how real energy supplements work and why.
But here I want to do something different.
I want to get practical and tactical with 10 proven ways to boost energy production in your cellular energy factories –– your mitochondria.
We’ll start with the lifestyle and dietary ways to boost your mitochondria and then look at a few powerful supplements.
Let’s start with the most affordable...
You don’t need another article telling you how exercise is good for you. We all know that (hopefully!)
What we are just learning now is that exercise stimulates massive changes in your mitochondria. It is one of the fastest ways to stimulate mitochondria biogenesis, making all new mitochondria for a permanent energy upgrade.
It also destroys old, broken mitochondria, making room for the newer, healthier, higher-functioning ones.
Exercise gives signals to the mitochondria to boost their energy production –– a signal that slowly raises your baseline energy levels over time .
One of the most powerful ways to upgrade your mitochondria is, paradoxically, giving them less to work with. I’m talking about calorie restriction.
When you don’t eat, your mitochondria compensate by learning to produce more energy with less waste .
This has an extra effect of making your mitochondria stronger and less vulnerable to damage –– it’s like a permanent upgrade to your energy system, which in turn benefits your entire biology .
One way to think about “energy” is to think about fuel. Everything you eat is fuel for the fires of your mitochondria.
But not all fuel is created equal.
In the same way that some kinds of wood burn hotter and longer in a fire than others, some food gives you more energy per gram than others.
Carbs burn very fast, but not very long. By now, we’ve all heard about the drawbacks of carbs as an energy source –– spiked insulin levels and the inevitable crash, acidification, brain fog, gut dysbiosis, and incidentally feeding cancer and parasites.
Protein is a good source, but a lot of the energy in protein is sent into the anabolic pathway to build other proteins. Plus when you use it for energy it creates toxic nitrogen waste that is difficult for your body to process.
So that leaves us with fat.
Fat is the single most efficient energy source we have. It is stuffed full of electrons, the little packets of electricity that drive the creation of ATP.
Now hold on, I’m going to get a little scientific for a minute.
The Krebs Cycle is THE driver of your mitochondria. This is the primary mechanism your body uses to make energy.
Everything that actually “enhances energy” in a non-stimulate way or gives you “vitality” does something to the Krebs cycle, one way or another.
In the diagram above, the “fuel” that goes into the cycle is “Acetyl-CoA.” This is what your metabolism turns fat into .
But even within the category of fat, some are more efficient and others are less efficient. The one problem with fats is that they can take a lot of energy to process.
After your gut, they have to go to the liver to be processed, and from there, get shuttled around to the rest of your cells.
But there is one special category of fats that gives you fast, sustained energy:
Medium-chain triglycerides, also known as MCT oil.
These are fats derived from coconut oil. That are short enough that they can bypass the liver and go directly to your mitochondria.
They help your body go into a mild state of ketosis, creating a long, sustained boost in energy levels because they are extremely efficient food for your mitochondria . They take very little processing and make no waste.
This is a powerful little molecule that gives a well-documented boost to your energy levels. Research shows it increases both mental and physical energy , increases cognitive function , and reduces mental fatigue .
When you eat acetyl-L-carnitine it is able to go through your blood-brain barrier and then your cells turn it into carnitine.
Carnitine helps fatty acids get into your mitochondria where they can be broken down by the Krebs cycle into energy .
And fats, as you remember, are the single most efficient form of fuel for making ATP.
You can think of carnitine like a fuel-injector system in a car. It helps your energy factories get more fuel faster. That means you can make more energy.
No discussion of energy-boosting supplements could be complete without talking about B-vitamins.
This class of compounds is directly involved with the metabolism of every kind of fuel: fats, carbs, and protein. Ultimately, all the food used to produce energy all ends up as Acetyl-CoA in the Krebs cycle.
There are many, many steps before carbohydrates, protein, and fats turn into Acetyl-CoA.
B-vitamins help food get through these steps faster. That means adding these essential vitamins to your system increases your ability to turn food into energy.
You can think of it as a smart way to get more energy per bite of fuel. I’ve written more extensively about the different roles of each individual B-vitamin HERE if you’d like to learn more.
When you look at the diagram of the Krebs Cycle above, you’ll notice that half of the steps use NAD, turning it into NADH.
NAD is what’s known as a coenzyme. It helps other enzymes and reactions happen. It makes the system more efficient.
That means when you introduce more NAD into your system, you increase the mitochondrial capacity to create energy –– in biological terms, NAD increases oxidative metabolism .
But for the rest of us, you can think of it like increasing the bandwidth of your internet connection –– you can have a lot more tabs open with more bandwidth.
With more NAD available, the mitochondria can make more ATP, you have more energy, and your body stays healthier longer.
Research shows that NAD protects neurons from degeneration, prevents degenerative mitochondrial diseases, and even prevents arterial stiffness and other indicators of age-related decline [11,12].
In the same way that NAD is a coenzyme that helps other chemical reactions happen, CoQ10 is also a coenzyme.
It is produced inside the mitochondria and participates in thousands of chemical reactions –– especially the ones that help you make energy . It increases the mitochondrial size and voltage –– powerfully increasing the cell's ATP production .
Unfortunately, it is also one of the many important biological compounds that decrease with time, making it especially important to supplement as you age. CoQ10 deficiency is a marker mitochondrial dysfunction and can develop into lethal cardiovascular conditions .
CoQ10 has many benefits, including giving you a physical and mental performance boost .
PQQ is another cofactor, like NAD and CoQ10. It helps other reactions in the cell happen more efficiently.
It’s proven to enhance mitochondrial function by 15%, and even prevents oxidative damage in rats . That means more ATP for your body and mind.
But what’s interesting about PQQ is its powerful secondary effects that have a major impact on your mitochondria.
It stimulates the growth of new mitochondria , adding new energy factories and upgrading your entire energy-production system.
And as you might expect, when you increase your energy capacity with PQQ, it also increases your learning and memory capacity .
We all “know” minerals are important for our health. But they all play many different roles in our health.
When it comes to energy production, we especially need zinc and copper. Copper lies at the active site of many of the enzymes of the Krebs Cycle to help catalyze the reactions that drive energy production .
Zinc, on the other hand, is important for maintaining the ideal balance of NAD to NADH, the most important enzyme cofactor in the mitochondria .
They complement and synergize with each other to boost energy, immunity, and mood.
Oxaloacetate is an interesting one because it is the core compound of the Krebs Cycle –– the last step before turning back to citrate.
Because it is a central component of energy production in all living organisms, adding oxaloacetate into your system gives your cells the raw materials to drive the reactions that create ATP.
It is shown to increase NAD, which is shown to decrease degenerative disease and increase lifespan [21, 22].
But there’s another fascinating aspect to this remarkable little compound.
It appears to mimic the effects of calorie restriction . And in the same way calorie restriction increases lifespan in some organisms, oxaloacetate increases the lifespan of worms by 13% , which has led to its popularity as an anti-aging supplement.
Now, this is a far cry from proving the same effect in humans, but it can most certainly increase your mitochondrial capacity to make energy.
You are now armed with the fundamentals of how “energy” really happens in your body –– and it’s NOT another cup of coffee.
Stimulants end up hurting you more in the end –– a lot like sugar does. That’s why if you are intelligent about increasing your overall energy and vitality, you need to start with the actual energy factories in your body: your mitochondria.
By understanding how they work and the key compounds they use, you can fortify your body and give it everything it needs –– the food, exercise, vitamins, and supplements –– proven to make a difference and elevate your energy and performance to new highs.
And if you want to save some time and money, you can get many of these compounds –– including CoQ10, B Vitamins, and minerals in a single dose of BodyHealth’s Complete Multi.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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