Before we address how to increase mitochondrial biogenesis lets answer the question: what are mitochondria?
You may remember from high school biology that mitochondria are considered the “powerhouse” of the cell. The reason they are called this is because it is the organelle that is responsible for energy production. Cellular respiration occurs in just one place within the body and that is the mitochondria.
Respiration is the process of turning energy stored in food into the energy that fuels each and every one of our cells. In the mitochondria, glucose gets converted into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate. ATP is like the gasoline that powers our cells.
Since mitochondria are responsible for generating energy in our bodies, they are vital for how we feel and how much energy we have in general. Therefore, by increasing mitochondrial biogenesis and efficiency, we can have higher amounts of energy and improve our overall health.
The #1 way to increase mitochondrial biogenesis
If you want to increase mitochondrial biogenesis then implementing some sort of aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do. When you undergo aerobic stress, like a 1 mile jog for example, you inhale oxygen into your body and muscles at a higher rate than if you were at rest. The extra oxygen gets used by your mitochondria to process carbs into energy.
In one study, researchers observed the effect of aerobic training on mitochondrial volume density, (Mito(VD)). They discovered mitochondrial density increased up to 40% with aerobic exercise training. Therefore, aerobic training is one of the simplest ways to increase mitochondrial.
HIIT for mitochondrial biogenesis
One of the best forms of aerobic training that will give you a large increase in mitochondrial biogenesis is HIIT a.k.a. high intensity interval training. HIIT consists of intervals of short bursts of high intensity effort followed by short breaks. HIIT takes just a fraction of the time of a normal steady state cardio workout, but has shown to have better results. Another study found just two weeks of HIIT “significantly increased mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle.”
HIIT also produces an increase in mitochondrial enzyme synthesis which results in an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis.
Therefore, aerobic training (specifically HIIT) increases the expression of mitochondrial enzymes, which in turn increases mitochondrial biogenesis within the muscles.
Cold therapy for mitochondrial biogenesis
Cold therapy or cold exposure is another way to increase mitochondrial efficiency and mitochondrial density in your cells.
What exactly is cold therapy? Cold therapy is any deliberate/prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. One of the easiest ways to get in some cold exposure is by taking a cold shower. I prefer to do this in the winter when the water actually gets below 60 degrees (Doesn’t dry out your skin either). Other forms of cold therapy are ice baths, cryo chamber sessions, and simply walking around in the cold winter air with minimal clothing.
Clinical studies have demonstrated profound effects of cold therapy on mitochondrial biogenesis. For example, one study conducted on mice tested the effects of cold water during bouts of exercise. Scientists measured the level of mitochondrial gene expression in the cells of these mice to calculate the effects of the cold water versus the control. The results were the following: the mice that performed exercises in cold water, when compared to the control, had developed more mitochondria in their muscle tissue.
Specifically, the cold water mice demonstrated an increase in the amount of proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1 alpha (PGC-1α) in the calf muscles of the mice. PGC-1α is a transcription coactivator. Coactivators affect the transcription rates of genes. In this case, PGC-1α stimulates the transcription of genes that code for more mitochondria. Therefore, the cold water in this experiment demonstrated an increase in mitochondrial biogenesis.
Fasting and Mitochondrial Biogenesis
Fasting is another method that can increase mitochondrial biogenesis . You see, when you fast you limit the amount of nutrients available in the cell. The lack of nutrients gives your cell an opportunity to “clean up” any cellular waste products. This “cleaning” process in the cell is known as autophagy. Autophagy helps to break down old and worn out organelles like the mitochondria (a.k.a. Mitophagy). This triggers your cells to create brand new fully functioning mitochondria. It’s like trading in your beat up iPhone for the newest version.
The mechanism for how this process is initialized is triggered by the AMPK pathway. When cellular ATP levels are low a biochemical pathway gets propagated throughout the cell and in a few different reactions old mitochondria are broken down (mitophagy) and brand new mitochondria are produced. PGC1α also plays a role in this signaling pathway.
To conclude, fasting is a great way to help increase the process of mitochondrial biogenesis.
Red Light therapy for Mitochondrial Biogenesis and Efficiency
What is near infrared light?
Near-infrared (NIR) light is outside of the visible light spectrum, hence this is why we cannot see it. Infrared light has a slightly longer wavelength than red light. NIR has the ability to penetrate into the skin, ligaments and bones because of this long wavelength. The level of penetration is very important when it comes to supercharging your mitochondria throughout the body. Normal red light only can affect the cells on the out layer of the skin.
Moreover, red light therapy can increase the number of mitochondria in our cells. It also boosts their efficiency and function in cells by increasing the mitochondrial membrane potential . Another mechanism of red light therapy is it causes a performance increase in the electron transport chain mediated by cytochrome C oxidase. In addition, new research speculates that red-light therapy might cause the viscosity of the water in the mitochondria to become thinner and make the process of the electron transport more efficient.
So how can you use this information to help yourself? Well, a good practice to start following is simply getting out into the sun more often. The sun gives life to all organisms on this planet, including yourself! Another much more expensive way to benefit from this knowledge is to purchase a red light therapy light. You can use one of these even when the sun’s not shining.
Increasing mitochondrial biogenesis can also be achieved via supplementation. One supplement that has been proven to increase mitochondrial biogenesis is pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ).
Previous studies conducted upon mice have shown a lack of PQQ in the diet of mice resulted in less mitochondria in the mice’s cells. Researchers hypothesized that an increase in PQQ would result in an increase in mitochondria. They put their idea to the test in this study, and their hypothesis was confirmed as true: mice with increased PQQ consumption had more mitochondria.
Supplementation won’t solve all of your energy problems. It’s more important to focus on bigger issues like diet and sleep first. Supplements are meant to do just what their name entails, supplement.
If you want your mitochondria to be firing on all cylinders then diet is essential. We learned that mitochondria convert the energy from the food we eat into usable chemical energy. Therefore, the cleaner the “fuel” we give our mitochondria the better they will run. You wouldn’t give a Ferrari 87 octane gas would you? Hell no! You fill it with 93 octane high test!
In my opinion, I believe the best way to fuel the body is by consuming high amounts of healthy fats as opposed to carbohydrates. This study shows that a high fat, ketogenic diet actually increases the amount of mitochondria in cells. Increased mitochondria leads to higher amounts of energy. I personally can say, when I follow a strict ketogenic diet I have higher energy levels.
Not to go too far down the rabbit hole of ketosis, but when you are in a state of ketosis your body is using ketones to burn for fuel rather than carbohydrates. Ketones burn more efficiently and yield more energy (ATP) per molecule compared to carbohydrates. They have also been shown to neutralize inflammation by soaking up reactive oxygen species/free radicals.
Conversely, when you eat a diet that is high in carbohydrates and sugars, research has shown that not only are fewer energy molecules of ATP generated, but more inflammation also occurs. This is why staying away from foods that cause high blood sugar spikes is paramount for increasing the function of your mitochondria.
So if you want to increase mitochondrial biogenesis then eating a clean diet, low in carbohydrates and high in healthy fats might be the best solution.