Targeting the Mighty Mitochondria in Clinical Practice

Cyto-Matrix MemberCyto-Matrix Newsletters

By: Dr. Colin O’Brien ND, Medical Director, Cyto-Matrix

The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in chronic and degenerative diseases is becoming more and more evident. Although the basic function of the mitochondria is to create cellular energy and remove waste byproducts, these are complex tasks with countless areas of potential error. If problems exist in the mitochondria, your patient’s symptoms will reflect this. Clinically, patients with mitochondrial stress present with low energy and especially poor recovery from exertion or environmental stressors, similar to a poor adrenal response.

In addition to foundational nutrients such as magnesium and B-vitamins, a number of nutrients have been identified to specifically improve mitochondrial function and clinical outcomes:


  •      Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC): ALC is the acetylated form of L-Carnitine and the only form demonstrated to cross the blood-brain-barrier and enter the central nervous system. Research has shown that ALC can improve various markers of cognition and mood, including attention, reaction time, memory, depression and mental fatigue.[i] [ii] ALC also protects the nerves in cases of drug-induced neuropathy and diabetic neuropathy, with extensive evidence to show that it can positively impact sperm motility and, thereby, male infertility. [iii] [iv]


  •      N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC): NAC is the rate-limiting amino acid needed to build glutathione, our body’s master antioxidant. This ability to upregulate glutathione explains why it is conventionally used to protect the liver in cases of acetaminophen toxicity and why it is known as a liver protectant and detoxifying agent. It has powerful antioxidant actions which may help to explain why it can reduce acne severity, stabilize mood in bipolar patients and reduce miscarriage rates in women.[v] [vi] [vii] Finally, NAC is an effective and well-researched mucolytic agent in cases of bronchitis and other respiratory conditions.[viii]


  •      Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): CoQ10 is another powerful antioxidant within the body that is necessary for cellular energy production in the electron transport chain. Although CoQ10 is most well-known for its ability to improve cardiovascular conditions such as congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathies and hypertension[ix] [x], clinical trials have also shown that supplementation can improve Parkinson’s disease[xi], sperm parameters and male infertility[xii], oocyte quality and female infertility[xiii], migraines[xiv] and more.


  •      Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA): ALA is another nutrient that has demonstrated the ability to protect the nervous system and improve mitochondrial function. ALA is capable of increasing both intracellular glutathione levels and coenzyme Q10 levels, making it the ideal nutrient to supplement alongside NAC and CoQ10.[xv] ALA has specifically been studied for its ability to reduce blood sugars, protect nerve cells, reduce pain, numbness and burning in cases of diabetic neuropathy and chelate heavy metals such as mercury. [xvi]


  •      Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ): This B-vitamin like compound helps to protect neurons from toxicity, to enhance nerve growth factor (NGF) production and prevent memory deficits related to free radical damage.[xvii]  These actions are enhanced through the concomitant use with CoQ10 and, collectively, they have been shown to protect the mitochondria and activate the generation of new mitochondria. [xviii] Although clinical research is less robust than other mitochondrial nutrients, animal studies with PQQ are intriguing in that they have demonstrated peripheral nerve regeneration and myelin repair.[xix]


Collectively, these ingredients can help to restore mitochondrial function to the cellular powerhouse that it should be. Mitochondrial support should be considered for all patients with cognitive dysfunction, low energy, nerve damage, fertility concerns, chemical sensitivities or poor recovery from environmental stressors.

Often targeted mitochondrial nutrients can be beneficial when used concomitantly with adrenal support or in cases where adrenal supportive nutrients do not provide clinical benefit. In particular, mitochondrial nutrients are indicated for individuals with toxin exposure and resultant cellular detoxification deficits. 



[i] Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2008 Mar-Apr;46(2):181-90.

[ii] Psychosom Med. 2004 Mar-Apr;66(2):276-82.

[iii] PLoS One. 2015; 10(3): e0119479

[iv] Iran J Reprod Med. 2012 Mar; 10(2): 77–82.

[v] J Clin Exp Dermatol Res 2012, 3:5

[vi] Int J Bipolar Disord. 2018; 6: 11

[vii] Reprod Biomed Online. 2008 Nov;17(5):722-6.

[viii] European Respiratory Review 2015 24: 451-461

[ix] Open Heart 2015;2:e000326

[x] J Hum Hypertens. 2007 Apr;21(4):297-306

[xi]  Arch Neurol 2002;59:1541-1550

[xii] Int Urol and Nephrol. 44(3):689-700

[xiii] Aging Cell. 2015 Oct; 14(5): 887–895.

[xiv]  Cephalalgia 2002;22:137-141

[xv] Alt Med Review 2006; 11(3)

[xvi] Int J Endocrinol. 2012; 2012: 456279.

[xvii] Food Style 2009; 21: 13(7): 50-3.

[xviii] Alt Med Review 2009; 14(3):268-277

[xix] Microsurgery. 2005;25(4):329-37.