What are Mitochondria?
Cells need energy to grow, and the parts of a cell involved in energy production are our little bean-shaped mitochondria - the cell powerhouse. Given the essential function of maternally inherited mitochondria in producing energy for growth and maturation, it is not surprising that poorly functioning mitochondria are key factors in diseases such as the neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, metabolic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neuromuscular disease and infertility .
The health of your mitochondria is a great indicator of the success of fertilisation and embryo development . A mature oocyte will contain ~100,000 mitochondria – that’s more than in any other cell of the body so they are pretty important for your egg quality!
What Impacts my Mitochondria?
Mitochondria are sensitive to elevated inflammation and oxidative stress but they can also contribute to oxidative stress as they work to produce energy. Conditions impacting fertility that are associated with elevations in oxidative stress and inflammation often go hand in hand with mitochondrial dysfunction. For example, eggs retrieved from females with endometriosis have altered morphology (their structure is different), lower levels of mitochondria (which impact the eggs ability to produce energy), and these eggs are less likely to mature once collected .
Mitochondrial function is also impaired in PCOS, reducing oocyte quality , and eggs from obese females have higher levels of mitochondria damage .
The ability of mitochondria to produce energy is crucial during the development of eggs and to allow for normal embryo growth development . It is not surprising that the decline in egg quality with ageing is also related to mitochondria health.
The things that can damage our mitochondria are many, including a high-fat diet . But once again the good news is that there are ways you can boost your mitochondrial efficiency to improve their functioning for optimal reproductive health.
What's my Gut got to do with it?
here is a relationship between gut dysbiosis, mitochondrial disruption and inflammation . Your gut microbiota can directly influence the health of your mitochondria, not only in your intestinal cells but also in your ovaries.
While not a human being, the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, shares about 75% of disease causing genes that are common to mammals, making it a useful model to help explore inflammatory human diseases and provide opportunities for therapeutic discovery . When the gut microbiota is removed from the fruit fly, the production of energy from mitochondria located in the eggs of the female fruit fly was impaired. This meant that the eggs did not develop as they usually would , impacting egg quality. Your gut microbiota is involved in the production of vitamins and co-enzymes that support mitochondrial function making it essential for nurturing your mitochondria and egg quality.
Looking after your gut microbes with nutrition and physical activity will help nurture those mitochondria for essential energy production!
Optimising Mitochondrial Health
1. Exercise: Exercise opposes the detrimental effects of ageing, enhances insulin sensitivity, reduces inflammation and improves efficiency of your mitochondria – all things that benefit fertility!In animal models where we can more easily look at the mitochondria in retrieved eggs, exercise improves mitochondrial shape and function and reverses the damage of a high fat diet . Talk with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to ensure you have the optimal balance of strength and aerobic loading in your exercise prescription.
2. Show your Gut Microbiota some Love: Optimising your gut microbiota diversity will provide your mitochondria will all the essential vitamins, minerals and co-factors they need to produce energy. Improving your gut health also dampens systemic inflammation to limit stress on your mitochondria.
3. It Takes Two - Sperm Health Matters: When our mitochondria are impacted by conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS, sperm health matters even more. Watch our video "Help an Egg Out".
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