Understanding Energy From A Holistic Functional Medicine Perspective

04/07/2022, Dr Nirusa Kumaran, Founder And Medical Director Of Elemental Health Clinic

Do you struggle from tiredness, fatigue, low energy levels or burnout? You may have been to your doctor, had bloods taken, only to find out your results are all normal. As a GP, but also a functional medicine doctor, this is something I come across frequently. Tiredness, fatigue and a reduction in energy is not a normal phenomenon and it isn’t just a way of life that should be accepted as the norm.

As a functional medicine doctor, I delve deeper to understand what is happening with energy production on a biological and physiological level. There are many different processes involved for optimal energy production and maintenance and in this blog we will consider mitochondrial health and detoxification.

The mitochondria are the energy centres that exist in every single cell of the body. They are responsible for producing ATP, the form of energy our cells utilise. For many reasons, our mitochondria can be prone to dysfunction. This then reduces ATP production and can create oxidative stress by the production of free radicals. Our bodies then need to mop up these free radicals, and if unable to do so, this then further impacts ATP production in our mitochondria, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Our mitochondria require many nutrients to function effectively. Particularly B vitamins, Vitamin A, E, C, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Selenium, Manganese, Omega 3 Fatty Acids and more. Likewise, mitochondrial function can be impacted and reduced by toxicities such as heavy metals, chemicals, pollution and mould or mycotoxicity.

Sadly, many of the foods we consume, particularly the fruits and vegetables are no longer nutrient dense as one hundred years ago, making us prone to multiple micronutrient deficiencies. Often these micronutrients are not tested for in general practice. Additionally, most often, minerals such as magnesium and zinc are tested as serum levels, but ideally it should be tested as ‘red cell’ levels for an accurate result.

Functional testing allows you to test red cell minerals, heavy metals, mycotoxins, organic acids and more which enables us to understand comprehensively what is happening with the mitochondria on a cellular level.

Many conditions such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and even long covid will have mitochondrial dysfunction as a possible pathophysiological process. Understanding this, will help improve these conditions significantly.

How Can We Improve Mitochondrial Health As A Whole?

In addition to nutrition as discussed above, there are many practices and things we can do that can improve the health of our mitochondria. Our mitochondria can regenerate by a process called as mitophagy and biogenesis, where old, damaged mitochondria essentially die, and new ones are created. 

We can support mitochondrial biogenesis / induce mitophagy utilising these lifestyle tools:

  1. Sleep – this is vitally important as our cells / tissues / muscles regenerate during sleep 
  2. Fasting / Intermittent fasting 
  3. High intensity exercise or at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily 
  4. Cold water therapy / cold exposure
  5. Sauna therapy 
  6. Antioxidants & polyphenol nutrients 
  7. Stress reduction 
  8. Eliminating foods that can impact this such as refined carbohydrates and processed foods 
  9. Reducing exposure to toxins – eating organically where possible, reducing heavy metal exposure, mould exposure, and chemicals in our everyday home and personal care products 

Let’s Next Consider Detoxification

We touched on this above, however detoxification involves multiple complex physiological processes that are happening constantly in our bodies.

It is unfortunate that we are now surrounded by toxins everywhere; we really are being exposed to a toxic soup on a daily basis. Our detoxification pathways can easily become overwhelmed, and not having the right nutrients to support detoxification can lead to toxins accumulating in our bodies. A lot of toxins are lipophilic and are therefore stored in our fat cells. This is also an important pathophysiological process in cancer development and other disease development.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Once again, personalised testing, understanding your detoxification pathways and individual genetics can be extremely helpful to determine how well your body is detoxifying and where you may need additional support.

Mitochondrial function and detoxification are inter-related, as you need your detoxification pathways to be working effectively to remove the free radicals generated by the mitochondria. The best way to support detoxification is to first reduce toxin exposure where possible, and second to optimise antioxidants and polyphenols in the diet as much as possible.

There are many different polyphenols that are vital in detoxification, and depending on your personal detoxification pathways, some may be needed more so than others. A tip here is to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables a day, as each colour in the fruit or vegetable usually indicates a certain polyphenol compound, therefore having rainbow colours daily increases your chances of getting the polyphenols you need.

Another great way to support detoxification is by eating broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. These contain sulphorophane which is a key component of the detoxification pathways.

Energy can also be impacted by our gut health, hormones, stress (particularly adrenal dysfunction), insulin resistance, inflammation and more. Energy production is truly a multisystem process, and many factors can impact / inhibit energy production.

About The Author

Dr Nirusa Kumaran, is the Founder and Medical Director of Elemental Health Clinic. She is a practising NHS and Private GP, Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Functional Medicine Specialist. She has over 10 years of clinical experience working as a medical doctor in the UK.

If this blog has got you interested in starting your wellness journey, call our wellness advisors at 020 7843 3597 or enquire here.

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