An estimated one in 4,000 persons will develop some form of mitochondrial disease in their lifetime, with some estimates as high as one in 2,000. 50% will develop the disease in childhood and the other 50% will acquire it in their lifetime and the impact can range from mild symptoms to death. It was previously thought there was no substantiative long term prognosis due to treatment limitations for these disorders, but recent advancements in technology may have changed that.
Mitochondrial dysfunction can be an inherited genetic defect or acquired through damage caused by a variety of common diseases. Either way, this it is not something that should be taken lightly. It is an extremely serious, debilitating and difficult to treat disease state but there are hopeful treatments that should be considered for anyone suffering from mitochondrial dysfunction.
What is mitochondrial dysfunction?
Mitochondrial dysfunctions or disorders are neuromuscular diseases caused by damage to the mitochondria, which are the small, energy-producing structures that are your cells “power plants.” In particular, the nerve cells in the brain, heart and your muscles demand a tremendous amount of energy, and are the most damaged when mitochondrial dysfunction occurs. There are more than 270 types of genetically induced mitochondrial diseases for which there are currently no FDA-approved treatments.
What are the symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction?
The symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction are broad and include muscle weakness or exercise intolerance, heart rhythm disturbances or even heart failure, dementia, stroke-like episodes, movement disorders, blindness, deafness, limited mobility of the eyes and droopy eyelids, seizures and vomiting, food avoidance, nausea, headache, migraine and breathlessness.
The Scary Part: You can be stricken with it as an adult!
Dysfunctional mitochondria are believed to be the primary source of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to inflammation and other harmful effects, one of which includes reduced mitochondrial energy output. Diseases characterized by acquired mitochondrial dysfunction include:
* Heart failure * Age-related macular degeneration
* Kidney disease * Cardiovascular disease
* Diabetic macular edema and retinopathies * Neurodegeneration
* Metabolic diseases * Certain skeletal muscle disorders
How to properly diagnose mitchondrial dysfunction?
Because the symptoms are so diverse, it can be very challenging to diagnose mitochondrial dysfunction. A combination of molecular, genetic, pathological or biochemical data in a patient with symptoms, must all be taken into account and assessed by the physician. There is no agreed upon standard method of evaluation or guidelines to determine if your diagnosis is correct.
What is the treatment?
These diseases are very difficult to treat and require a multi-faceted approach. Nutrient regeneration through the use of supplementation is extremely necessary. Dietary therapy including the addition of MCT oils or other healthy fats as well as following a personalized diet plan are cornerstones of the treatment protocols. Supplementation with iron is very often necessary. Avoiding toxins such as alcohol and cigarettes, MSG and aspartame are critical. A comprehensive vitamin therapy protocol including CoQ10 is also required. Once those things are in place, detoxification of your body systems through a medically supervised dietary detox would be necessary. Resistance training is extremely beneficial to maintain healthy muscles for those with this disorder.
The research in all ares of hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been limited due to lack of funding or interest in this technology that doesn’t feed into the medical corporate interest for maximum profits. Politics aside, a few of the most afflicted patients in recent history with mitochondrial disorders underwent HBOT and the results were nothing short of a miraculous. Patients who have undergone HBOT for mitochondrial disorders have reported excellent results but no research studies have been done.
Another recent exciting advancement is stem cell technology. A recent study done by Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health & Science University and the Oregon National Primate Research Center has shown great promise. The results of the study were published in Nature through an article entitled “Metabolic rescue in pluripotent cells from patients with mtDNA disease.” They state, “To families with a loved one born with a mitochondrial disease waiting for a cure, today we can say that a cure is on the horizon. Over the past several years, we have been working to generate stem cells for use in combating disease. This critical first step toward treating these diseases using gene therapy will put us on the path to curing them and unlike unmatched tissue or organ donations, combined gene and cell therapy will allow us to create the patients’ own healthy tissue that will not be rejected by their bodies.”
As with any treatment, succesful outcomes depend upon the environment and the tools that it is working with. Meaning, if you are not detoxified, vitamins and nutrients replenished and are avoiding toxins, no therapy will be successful long term. You must do the ground work first.