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Hallmark of Ageing: Mitochondrial Dysfunction

A French physician and philosopher once said, “The human body is a machine that winds up its own springs.”

True, which is why, like any other machine, our body is subject to wear and tear with time, commonly understood as ageing. However, the human body’s mechanism goes beyond the superficial level, perhaps at a microscopic level? Nobody relates ageing to molecular science, but the hard truth lies there in.

To assess a process as complex as ageing, scientists have deliberated on 9 Hallmarks of ageing - mitochondrial dysfunction being one of them.

The Powerhouse of Cells

Mitochondria are important cellular components and are often called the powerhouses of cells that act like miniature energy-generating factories, converting the food we eat into usable energy. Nearly every cell in the body contains thousands of mitochondria, and they are responsible for processing oxygen and transforming nutrients from our meals into energy. Mitochondria produce 90% of the energy required by our body to function.

However, over time mitochondria become less efficient, and their function declines; this is called mitochondrial dysfunction.

During this stage of dysfunction, our mitochondria change, and their capacity to supply the body with chemical energy is impaired, resulting in the emission of potentially hazardous reactive oxygen species (ROS) which damage the cells.

Additionally, these ROS are responsible for bone fragility and cause inflammation and muscle weakness. The release of harmful ROS can also cause DNA mutations leading to cancer. Some of such mutations can also occur in mitochondrial DNA, damaging nearby healthy mitochondria. Furthermore, ROS can harm the very proteins that would control the reproduction of mitochondria and cause additional damage.

While the majority of these errors are identified and corrected by our body’s quality-control mechanisms in the cell (by eliminating damaged mitochondria); these systems become less and less efficient with age, decreasing in activity and eventually allowing errors to pass through.

But this isn’t always negative because each cell has a lot of mitochondria, so having ten or even a few hundred mutated mitochondria isn’t a big deal. The dysfunctional mitochondria may, however, outlive healthy mitochondria due to some of these mutations. This causes some types of defective mitochondria to accumulate and eventually outnumber healthy ones in number. Due to which, mitochondrial dysfunction is considered one of the main causes of ageing.

How can we prevent or reverse Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

As we age, NAD+ levels in human cells decline, impairing communication between the mitochondrial DNA and the cell’s nucleus, resulting in lower energy generation and an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS).

To overcome such issues and slow down the accumulation of mitochondrial damage, the amount of NAD+ must be increased in our body. NAD+ can be boosted through NMN supplementation as NMN is the precursor of NAD+.

NMN is a known longevity molecule with various health benefits such as reducing weight gain, enhancing energy metabolism and physical activity, improving insulin sensitivity, improving eye function, improving mitochondrial metabolism and preventing age-linked gene expression changes.

Apart from NMN, another molecule that can reduce mitochondrial dysfunction is Coenzyme Q (CoQ10). CoQ10 is an essential cofactor for mitochondrial function. It functions as a mitochondrial antioxidant, scavenging free radicals such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) as well as maintains the stability and integrity of our DNA.

Bottom Line

Mitochondrial dysfunction is a critical influence on the ageing process. Our cells’ mitochondria become dysfunctional with age, causing harm to our cells and encouraging more dysfunction in a vicious cycle. Our body’s quality control mechanisms prevent this for a while, but they eventually stop working, resulting in several ageing-related disorders. However, supplementing with compounds like NMN and CoQ10 can help alleviate mitochondrial dysfunction and slow down the ageing process.

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