The word fatigue can have a broad spectrum of causes. Usually fatigue relates to either mental or physical exhaustion. However, in this article we will primarily focus on a unique source of fatigue: cellular fatigue. I will explain it thoroughly and also discuss some corrective remedies. Most of us understand physical and mental fatigue. Cellular fatigue is likely the newest player in your vocabulary. Let’s explore these three types of fatigue.
Physical fatigue, or muscle fatigue, is the temporary physical inability of a muscle to perform optimally. The onset of muscle fatigue during physical activity is gradual, and depends upon an individual’s level of physical fitness. It also depends upon other factors, such as sleep deprivation and overall health. It can be reversed by rest.
Physical fatigue can be caused by a lack of energy in the muscle. This lack of energy is perpetrated by a decrease of the efficiency of the neuromuscular junction or by a reduction of the drive originating from the central nervous system. There are nutrients and certain neurotransmitters that are responsible for the degree of fatigue and the nature of it. It is clear both exercise and rest play an important role in physical fatigue as well.
Muscle strength testing can be used to determine the presence of a neuromuscular disease, but it cannot determine its etiology. Additional testing, such as electromyography, can provide diagnostic information, but information gained from muscle strength testing alone is not enough to diagnose most neuromuscular disorders. In the presence of neuromuscular disorders, fatigue may never be able to be completely eradicated.
Mental fatigue is an inability to maintain optimal cognitive performance. The onset of mental fatigue during any cognitive activity is gradual, and depends upon an individual’s cognitive ability. It also depends upon other factors, such as sleep deprivation, nutrition, exercise, genetics and overall health.
Mental fatigue has also been shown to decrease physical performance. If your mind is not sharp, your body can’t show up optimally. The old adage, “So you think it, it shall become” holds merit. If your mind can’t think, your body can’t perform either. It can manifest as somnolence, lethargy, or inability to maintain directed attention.
Hormonal imbalance plays a huge role in mental fatigue and clarity. If you are following a healthy nutritional protocol, getting plenty of rest and employing a balanced exercise program, you may consider having your endocrine hormones checked. All things in balance are imperative for optimal mental function and clarity.
Cellular fatigue is a form of fatigue that originates at the cellular level, inside an organelle called the mitochondria. Our cells are like mini cars. Each car has it’s own motor, just like each cell as it’s own mitochondria. Mitochondria are unusual organelles. They act as the power plants of the cell, are surrounded by two membranes, and have their own genome. They also divide independently of the cell in which they reside, meaning mitochondrial replication is not coupled to cell division.
Mitochondria are very small, microscopic organelles. Mitochondria range from 0.5 to 1.0 micrometer (μm) in diameter. That is smaller than the head of a safety pin. These structures are sometimes described as “the powerhouse of the cell” (motor). The nutrients needed to drive the mitochondria can be considered the spark plugs. Spark plugs necessitate the development of energy (ATP). If nutrients are deficient, mitochondria cannot drive the tri-carboxylic acid cycle and the electron transport chain which are fancy terms for the metabolic processes that make energy.
Mitochondria may play a role in cellular fatigue because they generate most of the cell’s supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the fuel that drives most metabolic processes. In addition to supplying cellular energy, mitochondria are involved in other tasks such as signaling, cellular differentiation and cell death, as well as maintaining the control of the cell cycle and cell growth. Mitochondria may play a role in the aging process.
Several characteristics make mitochondria unique. The number of mitochondria in a cell can vary widely by tissue and cell type. For instance, red blood cells have no mitochondria, whereas liver and muscle cells can have more than 2000. The organelle is composed of compartments that carry out specialized functions. These compartments or regions include the outer membrane, the intermembrane space, the inner membrane, and the cristae and matrix (the inner guts of the organelle).
9 Truths About the Mitochondria
- All cell function and physiology depends on the HEALTH of the mitochondria.
- Mitochondria produce 90% of our ENERGY. If 90% of energy comes from the mitochondria, it makes logical sense to focus on what makes mitochondria healthy and to understand how and what makes them function.
- Mitochondrial impairment causes fatigue. No spark (nutrients); no energy.
- The impairment of mitochondria causes a decline of cellular energy production and an advance in aging (aging more rapidly).
- Fatigue is related to the metabolic energy available to the tissues and cells.
- Cell membrane fluidity (health) and integrity are critical to cell function and metabolism.
- 90% of all cellular oxygen is used by the mitochondria. If we lack a strong heart and cardiovascular system by not exercising, we weaken our mitochondria.
- Free oxygen and electrons (ROS) result in oxidative stress. Or, better said…lack of good nutrition to offset oxidative stress and lends to cellular (energy) decline. Supporting the system with important antioxidants improve mitochondrial function.
- Exposure to drugs and other xenobiotics (toxic exposure) causes cellular and organelle damage. Mitochondria deteriorate with age due to ongoing exposure to free radicals, which accelerate the destruction of cellular components. Sugar is toxic. Excessive sugar creates AGE. No pun intended. AGE stands for Age Glycosylated End products. Excessive sugar makes proteins in your body sticky. This stickiness causes things to age at a more rapid rate. As mitochondrial function declines, the cells become starved for energy and damaged, causing them to function less efficiently. With less efficient function, comes fatigue.
Nutrients that Cause the Mitochondria to Thrive
- CoQ10 – A rate limiting nutritional factor in the electron transport chain. If CoQ10 is not available, ADP does not move along the electron transport chain to become the high energy fuel ATP. The system gets back logged and the symptom is fatigue.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid – This is a cofactor in multi-enzyme complexes that catalyzes oxidative decarboxylation of alpha-keto acids such as the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex. Again, a deficiency of this important nutrient lends the systemic symptom of fatigue.
- Panthetine – A necessity that helps shuttle fats from the blood stream across the cellular membrane for cell entry.
- L-carnitine – This is necessary to shuttle fats across the mitochondrial membrane for burning fat as fuel.
- B vitamins
- Magnesium and Manganeese – Required as Krebs cycle enzyme cofactors.
- Ribose – A neucleotide repleter and direct cellular energy source.
- Creatine – This supports additional energy production which supplies creatine and magnesium together, both needed for healthy mitochondria.
- Reservatrol and Curcumin – These are a couple of botonicals that have been shown to induce the production of additional mitochondria through the SIRT1 gene signaling and PGC-1 alpha induction.
- EPA/DHA (Eicosapentaenoic/Docosoahexanenoic) Acids – Two essential omega three fatty acids that are important in all cellular membranes. EPA/DHA aid the integrity and fluidity of cell membranes. These essential nutrients cannot be made in the human body and must be supplied in the nutritional intake or deficiency arises. These two essential fatty acids are very important in a multitude of enzymatic activity. They work to produce important eicosinoids and prostaglandins which are important factors in fighting inflammation.
The Importance of Reducing Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress can be likened to a rusty door. When the metal components are exposed to environmental elements such as water, heat and air, the metal oxidizes and rust forms. The metal elements are no longer in their native form but have become oxidized and damaged. This same scenario can happen inside a cell if proper nutrition is unavailable.
It is important to ensure adequate antioxidant support. The Vitamins A, C, E and selenium in proper amount reduce oxidative stress. For all intensive purposes, avoid what causes oxidative stress. Avoid exposure to toxins (drugs, alcohol, excessive sugar and processed food). Too much exercise can increase oxidative stress and lend chronic fatigue. Lack of sufficient sleep and or rest can also increase oxidative stress and worsen hormonal balance. If we take appropriate steps to ensure adequate nutrition, rest, exercise and eliminate things that cause excessive oxidative stress, our systems function in a more protected and optimal capacity and the symptom of fatigue is arrested.
There are many causes of fatigue. Getting to the root cause is the most important and quickest way to address the symptom. Feel free to ask us about our mitochondrial nutrient support. We enjoy living the wellness life with you!