Overwhelming chronic fatigue is one of the biggest complaints our patients have when they come to see us for care. The fatigue we often hear about is not just inconvenient – it can be so debilitating that it interrupts one’s ability to complete even small tasks even to the point of being able to get through the day. In this article, we’re explaining how chronic fatigue and mitochondrial disorders are connected.
Anyone who’s experienced chronic fatigue understands how frustrating sheer exhaustion can be.
Until recently, people with chronic fatigue were often told that the condition was in their heads or that they were lazy. Doctors would frequently prescribe more exercise as a way to boost energy levels – a recommendation that was often impossible to implement.
Fatigue is caused on a cellular level by dysfunction in energy production, which translates to low overall body energy levels. So if you suffer from relentless fatigue, know that it’s not a lack of drive or motivation but possibly poor production of cellular energy. To understand why fatigue is plaguing you in the first place, we must get down on the cellular level and examine how it happens.
Your mitochondria are little “organelles” that exist inside all of your cells and are responsible for creating energy. The energy molecule on a cellular level is called “adenosine triphosphate (ATP)”. Often referred to as the “powerhouse generator of cells,” your mitochondria are working around the clock to convert sugars, amino acids from protein, and fatty acids into ATP.
It’s an understatement to say your mitochondria are responsible for your energy levels – because you need a constant supply of ATP to live. In fact, without ATP you would die in seconds. This is how the poison cyanide works. Basically, the drug cyanide suffocates your mitochondria and prevents the energy production cycle from occurring. This brings us to the next part of your energy story – the ever-important “Krebs Cycle”, which is the chemical cascade responsible for creating all of this energy.
The Krebs cycle converts oxygen into ATP and occurs in your mitochondria. The Krebs cycle is directed by enzymes (chemicals that make a chemical reaction speed up). Many different toxins can get in the way or block this cycle from happening efficiently.
I often describe the Krebs cycle to my patients like pilots flying a plane. The pilots are enzymes directing the plane – telling it exactly what to do to safely navigate the airspace. Just as pilots need co-pilots, these enzymes require “coenzymes”. These coenzymes are usually nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium as well as the powerful antioxidant glutathione.
Many different toxins can prevent this plane from getting where it needs to go, just like barricades on a runway or clouds that create turbulence. Common mitochondrial toxins can be heavy metals like mercury or lead and some prescription medications as well as the chemicals from plastics and manufacturing. A smooth flight with plenty of “copilots” and “plenty of fuel” and with no obstructions from toxins means plenty of energy production – that’s when you feel your best.
Whether you’re competing in a triathlon or just getting through the day, an efficient Krebs cycle is what supplies you with sufficient energy. When there’s insufficient fuel or blockages, and your Krebs cycle is producing at lower levels, you can experience fatigue, muscle weakness, depression, and a dysfunctional immune system.
Think of your Krebs cycle as your source of energy, anything that might get in the way can make you feel fatigued. When patients come to our office frustrated by their chronic fatigue, this is where we look first. We look for things known to impact the Krebs cycle and cause impaired mitochondrial function, or mitochondrial disorders.
Factors we’ve seen cause the Krebs cycle to become blocked or interrupted, include:
When you have impaired mitochondrial function and decreased energy production you can experience a wide range of symptoms, but generally, fatigue is the number one. Here are the signs and symptoms of an interrupted Krebs cycle, poor mitochondrial function, and the associated for mitochondrial dysfunction :
The term “mitochondrial diseases” refers to congenital conditions where there are actual mutations of mitochondrial DNA (a defect in the “instruction manuals” (DNA) of the mitochondria). Examples include muscular dystrophy. You can think of mitochondrial diseases in the general sense as anything that interrupts the production of ATP.
Though the above-mentioned symptoms also occur in mitochondrial dysfunction, true congenital mitochondrial diseases develop into more serious problems. The later stages of congenital mitochondrial disease include strokes, seizures, and dementia. Because there are high levels of mitochondria in your brain, heart, lungs, and muscles, often symptoms are noticed there first.
The mitochondria affect every organ in the body, which results in confusing multi-system symptoms. Because of this it takes time working with a certified Functional Medicine Physician to reach a full and accurate diagnosis. We’ve developed a Fully Functional® process to treat complex medical conditions like chronic fatigue and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Drs. Ellen and Scott Antoine have years of experience in mitochondrial dysfunction, chronic fatigue, and alterations of the Krebs cycle. A lot can be done to manage your condition so you can live a Fully Functional® life. If you’re looking for a doctor who specializes in mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic fatigue and are in Carmel, Indiana, you can book an appointment by clicking here . We are also happy to speak with you at (317) 989-8463, Monday-Thursday, from 8AM – 5PM Eastern time.
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The Center for Fully Functional Health® is led by a team of award-winning, internationally recognized physicians, committed to providing personalized, life-changing care.