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Mitochondria Basics

Mitochondria are the energy producers of your cells. They are tiny organelles that originated as independent bacteria and were adopted by multicellular organisms billions of years ago, allowing for complex life. They can be modeled as the miniature suns or batteries in your cells that make ATP, which is the molecule that stores energy. You can think of ATP as a currency– when it splits open, it gives you the dollars or units of energy that you need to make your body work. Once ATP is made, it is responsible for making proteins fold and unfold to interact with water in your body, which carries the signal from the light. The better your mitochondria are functioning, the more ATP they make and the more energy you have to heal and carry out your daily functions.

Mitochondria are made up of two membranes. On the inner membrane, there are five pumps that line up and oscillate or vibrate, pushing electrons along a chain to create an electric field and generate ATP. You can think of these pumps as quantum soldiers– they must line up and march in unison, tossing balls or electrons between each other to make your money or ATP. These electrons come from the food that you eat. When the soldiers are not working together, less ATP is made and disease can ensue. 

Nearly every cell in your body contains mitochondria, and each one can have up to a few thousand, depending on the kind of cell. The density of mitochondria in different cell types dictates the ATP production for that organ system. The highest density of mitochondria is in the brain, which consumes 20% of ATP made by the human body. The second-highest density is found in the cells of the cardiovascular system, or the heart and blood vessels. The next highest density is in the immune system, then the muscle, bone, and so on. As you can see, energy production is critical to health. Most modern chronic illnesses are rooted in or affected by mitochondrial dysfunction, including but not limited to: anxiety, depression, autism, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, ADD, diabetes, thyroid disease, POTS, inflammation, and autoimmune disease.

Image credit:

1st image- staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014" WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. [CC BY 3.0 (]

2nd image- By CNX OpenStax –, CC BY 4.0,

© 2020 by Courtney Hunt, MD, PC


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