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Mitochondria: Why Your Cells' Functioning - And Not Genetics - Determine Disease

Apr 01, 2018

Let's look at some health figures of the 2012 to 2015 period. 

In the US, diabetes cost $245 billion dollars a year.[3] Cancer added another $135 billion.[5] 

On a worldwide basis, heart failure cost $108 billion dollars a year.[4] Diabetes cost $1.5 trillion. Dementia? $818 billion.[28]

Those figures are even higher now. 

What's even worse? Many people die prematurely because of these diseases. In part, they die because they think these diseases are inevitable - believing that their genetics cause these diseases. Generics may not be the main reason these diseases develop at all, however.

If you're thinking: "mitochondria are the key to health, are you kidding me?", then my answer is a resounding yes...

Bear with me to find out about the surprising science of mitochondria... 

By the way, do you want some easy-to-implement tools to work on your health? Do you want to develop phenomenal mitochondria?


Last updated: March 22 2019

*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information.

Author: Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MSc - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MSc).

You're probably acquainted with the concept of DNA and genetics. You know that you inherit certain traits from your parents, and that your genetics make you susceptible to certain diseases. For many decades, most scientists believed that your genetics determine whether you get certain diseases or not.

That's wrong.

Most disease actually starts in what are called "mitochondria".

Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells.

How to understand these mitochondria? Take a look at a human cell in the picture below:

human cell with different organelles such as mitochondria

In that picture, your mitochondria are numbered "9" .

Traditionally, scientists have not been looking at your mitochondria, but mainly looked at number "1". Number 1 represents the "nucleus" or the center of your cells.

In that nucleus, your ordinary genome is stored. By focusing too much on that ordinary genome, scientists have been investigating the wrong part of the cell.

Why does that matter to you?

Well, if most modern diseases start in your mitochondria, then energy production and disease are intrinsically linked.

Besides energy production, however, mitochondria have another function. Mitochondria decipher information from their environment. That environment consists in the way light in your environment that interacts with your body, and the food you put in your body.


You see, the light in your environment influences your body's biology just as much as food does. Don't you believe me? Well, if you ever had a sunburn, then you already know that light has biological effects. These biological effects are just larger than most people presuppose. 

As information, that light determines what happens with the energy that is processed in your mitochondria. Energy is thus processed differently in your mitochondria, if your mitochondria process information incorrectly.

We'll explore both energy and information in more detail later on.

Let's return to the main topic of this blog post: mitochondria.

This blog post does carry an optimistic message. Why? Because you can control your mitochondria. An example of how you can control your mitochondria is whether you expose yourself to sunlight. Another example is the foods you eat. 

I call this message optimistic because your health is no longer exclusively determined by your genetics - as some of you may have previously thought.

By improving your mitochondria function, you can even lower your chances of getting certain diseases. 

In this article, I'll explore that relationship between mitochondria and disease. I'll also tell you how to improve the function of your mitochondria.

For your convenience, I've also included a summary at the beginning of this article. If you just want to understand the basics of what makes mitochondria important, read the summary section. If you want to understand all the details, read this entire article.

Note: this blog post - like my previous blog posts - contains some nerd sections. These nerd sections contain more advanced explanations. You can skip these nerd sections if you just want to understand the basics about mitochondria and disease.

Table Of Contents.


Remember that your mitochondria are the main energy producers in your body's cells. Mitochondria produce more than 90% of your cells' energy.

Do you want to know something crazy?

Mitochondria have their own DNA--which is separate from your regular genome.

The DNA in your mitochondria is called "mitochondrial DNA". When you age, that mitochondrial DNA slowly "mutates" over time. 

What does "mutation" mean?

Mutation means that some of your mitochondrial DNA changes. 

As a consequence, the mitochondrial DNA in your body becomes more and more dissimilar. In other words, not all your mitochondrial DNA in your body is the same anymore. 

You see, when you are born, your mitochondrial DNA is mostly the same in your body. Aging causes that level of sameness to become greater.

When the mitochondrial DNA strands in your body begin to deviate from each other, this is called "heteroplasmy".

Heteroplasmy has two main effects. First, heteroplasmy lowers how energy production is handled in your body - specifically your mitochondria. Secondly, heteroplasmy alters how your mitochondria handle information.

What do I mean by "information"?

The foods you eat and the light that enters your body from your environment are examples of information that your mitochondria process. Without proper processing of that information, the signaling in your mitochondria - and the signaling to the rest of your body - breaks down.

In the end, lower energy levels and poorer handling of information make you more likely to be diseased.

You thus want to keep your heteroplasmy levels down, so that your mitochondria function properly.

You might now be asking: "how does your mitochondrial DNA change over time?"

The two main reasons for these changes are a) damage to your cells--partly because of aging, and partly because of bad habits that you might have; and b) having a poor wakefulness and sleep (circadian) rhythm. 

Don't worry if you do not precisely understand what I mean with those reasons.

Instead, focus on the following most important strategies to prevent your mitochondrial DNA from mutating:

  1. Block blue and green light at night. Make sure you wear blue blocker glasses. Blue-blocking glasses to avoid giving your brain the impression that it's daytime at night. 
  2. Expose your naked skin and eyes to sunlight during the day, especially during the morning. Do not wear sunglasses, or clothes (if possible).
  3. Expose yourself to the cold (but only if you don't have a serious disease). 
  4. Eat a seasonal diet. That diet means eating fewer carbs during some periods, and more carbs during other periods (such as summertime).
  5. If you're healthy, try fasting.
  6. Intense exercise (but only if you're sleeping amazingly).

Now we can begin to understand what I meant with "your mitochondria handling information": take a close look at tips 1 and 2.

Tips 1 and 2 are specifically targeted towards how your body interacts with light. That light carries information, which affects your mitochondria.

If you thus put the wrong light signal into your body, your mitochondria will not work properly.

What consequences does that have for you?

By getting into the sun, and blocking blue and green light at night, you can thus keep your heteroplasmy rates down for longer.

wolves in cold and sunlight which is an analogy for autophagy
Fasting, cold, sunrise, and exercise together.

These animals know how to prevent modern disease...


Why do these strategies described above work? Because all strategies increase your sleep quality.

Sleep quality is massively important because bad or poorly functioning mitochondria are repaired or replaced during sleep. Without sleep, you'll end up with ever more poorly functioning mitochondria. These poorly functioning mitochondria stack up.

More and more poorly functioning mitochondria mean that you'll be diseased - whether that's heart disease or Alzheimer's disease.

The solution: follow the 6 strategies described above to optimize your sleep quality. Sleep remains the foundation for your health.

Health Foundation Program

If you're interested in learning more about mitochondria, read the rest of this article below...


Remember that mitochondria are the energy-producing factories in your cell. Also recall that most modern diseases are tied to energy deficiencies, which originate in your mitochondria.

Additionally, once your mitochondria break down, the can no longer decipher information - that stems from the food you consume, or the light in your environment.

Phrased differently, in most modern diseases, your body's mitochondria cannot produce the energy that your body needs to function - and no longer know what to do with that energy.

It is estimated that 85% of modern diseases have to do with mitochondrial dysfunctions, not genetics.[122]

Let's explore these mitochondria. Remember the picture of the human cell I gave you:

cell with different organelles such as mitochondria

You now know that your body stores your DNA in location number "1". That's the DNA you inherit from your parents. Number 9, your mitochondria, store their own genetic code.

Your body ends up with two genetic codes:

  1. Nuclear DNA, which is stored in the nucleus of your cells. Nuclear DNA is stored in every one of your body's cells, except your red blood cells and hair.
  2. Mitochondrial DNA, which is stored in your mitochondria.

It turns out, the latter is more important than the first. 

The two DNA types have major differences:

  • First of all, the nuclear DNA is much longer than the mitochondrial DNA. Your nuclear DNA contains 20.000 - 30.000 genes, while your mitochondrial DNA contains just 37 genes.
  • Secondly, each of your cells has only two copies of nuclear DNA. Cells contain thousands of mitochondria, and each mitochondrion has multiple mitochondrial DNA copies.
  • Thirdly, you inherit your mitochondrial DNA primarily through your mother.[8; 17-19] On the contrary - as you know - you inherit your nuclear DNA from both your parents.

You'll probably be asking: "why does the human body have two types of DNA?"

To explain their difference, we have to go back two billion years ago.

First, mitochondria originated from bacteria.[2; 6; 7] 


2 billion years ago, only very simple organisms existed on our planet. These simple organisms were made up of just one cell. 

Just two different single-celled organisms were alive: 1) bacteria; and 2) archaea. In fact, for billions of years, bacteria and archaea were the only organisms alive on Earth.

But then something revolutionary happened:

A bacterium wound up inside an archaeon. Both organisms survived. That bacterium remained within that archaeon, and these organisms mutually benefited from each others' presence.

The bacterium and archaeon combination became a whole new organism.

That organism was a success-formula.


The new organism allowed parts of the cell to specialize. That specialization also made an energy excess possible within this organism.

The energy excess allowed this new organism to develop into more and more complexity.

This combined organism of archaea and bacteria was the basis for all later evolving organisms that were made up of multiple cells. Hence, the event that occurred 2 billion years ago - which resulted in organisms made up of multiple cells - lies at the basis of every plant and animal that is found on this planet today.

That combination of archaea and bacteria is thus also the basis of your cells.


The archaeon became the basis for your regular (nuclear) DNA, while the bacterium became the basis for your mitochondrial DNA.

Over the course of their evolution, the archaeon and bacterial parts of cells began to specialize further and further.

The bacterial part of your cells focused on energy production.

In specializing, bacteria lost most of their DNA responsible for non-energy producing functions. Because the bacterial part lost so much DNA, that genetic code could eventually be reduced to just 37 genes - which are found in your mitochondria.

bacteria attacking a human cell
Harmful bacteria attacking human cells.

As you've now learned,
not all bacteria are harmful...


(Nerd section: for convenience sake, I'll assume in this article that your mitochondria originate from bacteria. This theory has been contested in evolutionary biology).[6]

From your 37 mitochondrial DNA genes, 13 are directly related to energy production.[8] That's more than 33% - or a third - of your mitochondrial genes.

How fundamental is the mitochondrial (bacterial) part of your cells for energy production?

Consider this example. Oxygen, that is taken up by your lungs, is transferred through your blood. That oxygen ends up in your cells. Your mitochondria end up using that oxygen - together with other chemical elements - to produce energy. Without mitochondria - and their use of oxygen - your cells cannot function. In other words, without mitochondria or oxygen, you'll soon die.

How do mitochondria use that oxygen?

In your mitochondria oxygen and other chemicals such as hydrogen are actually "transformed" into carbon dioxide and water.

Crazy right?

That chemical reactions that occur in your mitochondria is actually almost the opposite of what happens in plants:

an analogy demonstrating the similarity between photosynthesis and processes in human cells in relation to light

Plants create sugar and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water. You might know that process as "photosynthesis".

(Nerd section: in reality, the mitochondrial function cannot just be explained by chemical reactions. Electricity, and quantum phenomena, also play a role. For example, quantum tunneling is now a widely accepted phenomenon that takes place in your mitochondria.[123] The same quantum effects explain modern conceptions of photosynthesis.[124]

Your mitochondria work the other way around. Mitochondria have oxygen and sugar (or fat) as their input, and carbon dioxide and water as their output. 

You now understand what mitochondria originate from bacteria, and that they play a role in using oxygen in your body. 

Let's now look at how mitochondria play a role in disease.


Let me ask you a question: what's the biggest risk factor for getting diseases?

Smoking? Sitting all day? Not exercising? An unhealthy diet? Toxin exposure?


Aging is the biggest risk factor.[2]

The older you get, the more prone you're to getting diseased. I know that fact sounds almost self-evident, but bear with me to understand why I'm talking about aging...

Why does aging matter so much?

Over time, your existing mitochondrial DNA needs to be replaced or repaired, or new DNA needs to be created.

That replacement, repair, or creation, is not always successful. That process can be unsuccessful in four main ways:[8; 9]

  1. The reproduction of mitochondrial DNA can go wrong.
  2. Existing DNA may be poorly or wrongly repaired.
  3. Sometimes new DNA is added that did not exist previously.
  4. At other times, existing DNA is wrongly deleted.

When the copying process of your mitochondrial DNA goes wrong, that is called "mutation".[37-39] 

When part of your mitochondrial DNA mutates, a small part of your genetic code is different than the one you had earlier.

Of course, such changes are minute in the beginning. But these changes add up over time. Over a period of decades, your mitochondrial DNA becomes more and more diverse throughout your body.

As an analogy, you can compare these DNA mutations to the manual copying of an ancient text:

an analogy to explain DNA mutations

Before the invention of the printing press, scrolls and books had to be copied by hand.

During that manual copying process, you might forget a word, or slightly alter a word. Alternatively, a damaged scroll or book might also need to be repaired - which cause possible errors in wording compared to earlier versions. Lastly, words might be erroneously added or deleted in their entirety.

After a wrong copying process, two ancient texts are no longer the same.

If you copy such texts often enough, all versions have slight differences.

The same errors thus occur in copying the DNA of your mitochondria.

As more than a third of your mitochondrial DNA is related to energy production purposes, mutations will have a huge effect on your energy production over time.[11] 

The older you get, the worse your mitochondrial DNA becomes.[12; 13]

As a consequence, your mitochondria function less well.

Remember that you do not have just one strand of mitochondrial DNA. Even in one cell, thousands of different mitochondrial DNA variations emerge over time due to mutations.[14-16] That diversity in your mitochondrial DNA is called "heteroplasmy".

With aging, the amount of heteroplasmy goes up - so that there is increasing mitochondrial DNA diversity. When your heteroplasmy levels are measured, that measurement is called "heteroplasmy rate".

Now, to be clear, your mitochondrial DNA was never completely the same in your body.

But the problem is that this difference increases with aging.

An increasing heteroplasmy rate is a problem because your mitochondrial DNA is so closely related to how well your body produces energy.[21; 22] Higher heteroplasmy rates additionally affects how your cells handle information from both inside and outside the body. An example is light signaling. Believe it or not, but your mitochondria use red and ultraviolet light to signal.[118; 119]

Once that signaling breaks down, diseases are more likely to occur.

Why does mitochondrial DNA not perfectly replicate? In producing energy, you mitochondria also create what is called "reactive oxygen species".[1 20; 7]

Your cells need some reactive oxygen species to function properly. However, excessive reactive oxygen species damage your mitochondria and their DNA over time. As a consequence, you'll age faster.[116]

You might be asking: "how do I avoid that aging process?"

You cannot completely avoid your heteroplasmy rate going up as you age. 


Your mitochondria have to produce energy. By producing energy, your mitochondria automatically produce reactive oxygen species as well. And in producing reactive oxygen species, your mitochondria degenerate slowly. That degenerative cycle is unavoidable.

Heteroplasmy thus always becomes worse with aging.

But how do your mitochondria lose the ability to produce energy and relate to information?

Your mitochondria actually use physics particles, such as protons and electrons - together with molecules such as hydrogen and oxygen - to create energy.

At the most fundamental level, your food is thus not broken down into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Instead, food is essentially electrons and protons. These electrons and protons are subsequently used in your mitochondria.

The light input from your environment, such as sunlight, alters how those electrons and protons are processed inside your body.

If your heteroplasmy rate increases, the process of using molecules and physics particles break down.

You can now understand why when the heteroplasmy rate of your mitochondria goes up, you're more prone to getting diseased.

Energy is no longer successfully used in your mitochondria. How your mitochondria deal with energy - through information that sunlight and other light in your environment supplies to your body - also breaks down. If your mitochondria's energy-usage gets low enough, the body's systems will work less well, and (eventually) fail. That's when you die.

When measured, your heteroplasmy rate can be expressed as a %.

The higher the heteroplasmy rate gets, the higher your chances for modern diseases. 

(Nerd section: you can inherit a higher heteroplasmy rate from your mother at birth. That higher heteroplasmy rate makes you more susceptible to certain diseases.[31, 32]

Second nerd section: the replication of the distribution of the original and mutated DNA in the new cell is stochastic determined. This mutation rate of cells thus increases when you age, because mutations are never fully weeded out. How can children still be born healthy if mitochondrial DNA always mutates? Before pregnancy, eggs that cannot survive are discarded by women - and this selection occurs on the basis of energy generation.[103] Only eggs that contain mitochondrial DNA that allows for high energy production is passed on to the next generation.

Third nerd section: there's no easy measurement for heteroplasmy rate yet.)

Now you understand why aging is the biggest risk factor for getting modern diseases: aging automatically drives your heteroplasmy rate higher.

The mitochondrial DNA mutations do not stop in your mitochondria - they create other problems:

  • These mutations influence the other genome (DNA) in your nucleus.[104-105] Your two genomes communicate.
  • Mutations alter the way your regular genes are expressed, which then influences your biology.[108; 109]
  • The overall oxygen consumption of your mitochondria decreases with aging.[114; 115]

I'm by no means implying that aging has to do just with mutations of your mitochondrial DNA. The depletion of stem cells, for example, has a big influence too.[107; 110] Nevertheless, we're beginning to realize that mitochondria play an enormous role in that aging process.

So, what's next?

Well, all the information I gave you would be useless, if you would not be able to do something with that information.

Let's, therefore, look at how to slow your mitochondria from degrading over time. The question thus becomes: "how can you keep your heteroplasmy rate down as long as possible?"

We thereby arrive at the next step of the argument:

Successfully replacing bad and damaged mitochondria. 

By the way, want some easy-to-implement tools to massively improve your health? Do you want to develop phenomenal mitochondria?



Your mitochondria have to be replaced in your cells in the same way that petals of flowers are replaced through the seasons:

autophagy preventing disease analogy

This process of replacing old or damaged mitochondria is called "autophagy".[23-26; 40-44]

An inability to replace bad mitochondria leads to disease over time. What diseases? Almost all modern diseases are included:[32-36; 54-58]

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Type II diabetes
  4. Alzheimer's disease
  5. Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  6. Parkinson's disease.
  7. Huntington's disease
  8. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

And many others...

Different levels of heteroplasmy rates lead to different diseases.

For example, a 40% heteroplamy rate may lead to type II diabetes, while a 60% heteroplasmy rate might give you Alzheimer's disease. Increasing heteroplasmy rates thus lead to higher levels of degeneration over time.

(Nerd section: Doug Wallace - who lies at the basis of the paradigm shift of focusing on the mitochondrial DNA instead of the nuclear DNA - gives an example of heteroplasmy percentages:

"When present at relatively low levels (10%–30%) in the patient’s blood, the patient may manifest only type II diabetes with or without deafness. This is the most common known molecular cause of type II diabetes, purportedly accounting for between 0.5% and 1% of all type II diabetes worldwide. By contrast, when the A3243G mutation is present in >70% of the mtDNAs, it does not cause diabetes, but instead causes more severe symptoms including short stature, cardiomyopathy, CPEO, and mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acid and stroke-like episodes, the MELAS syndrome."[1]

Wallace has mapped heteroplasmy rates in both animals and in some humans).

Why does an inability to replace bad mitochondria lead to disease? Because poorly functioning mitochondria accumulate over time.[45; 111-113]

Phrased differently, without autophagy, you'll end up with many malfunctioning mitochondria and few functional ones. 

The removal of bad mitochondria, and the creation of new mitochondria, moreover, is tightly interrelated.[42; 47]

That means, that if you cannot remove bad mitochondria, you cannot replace them with new functioning ones.

How are bad mitochondria related to disease?

The areas in your body that have the highest density of mitochondria are your brain and heart.

That's interesting...

Many diseases of modern civilization also target these organs - which is not a coincidence. Excessive chronic inflammation, for example, almost always lies that the basis of these diseases.[51; 52] Clearing damaged mitochondria, however, will lower the overall inflammation levels in your body.[50] 

Under stress, the number of lost mitochondria might exceed your body's ability to replace them.[48] 

Let's return, however, to what I told you a few sections back. Do you remember what the biggest risk factor for getting modern diseases is?

It's aging.

Aging is thus a mitochondrial degenerative process as well.[60]

That should be shocking to you. Why?

Because in a sense, aging and disease are the same things. A disease may even be seen as a symptom of aging, and vise versa. Aging and disease are two sides of the same coin.

analogy between aging and seasonal change

From another viewpoint, aging can be seen as the "king of all diseases".[61]

To be clear, I'm not saying all disease occurs because of aging--you're likely very aware that children are sometimes born diseased. However, insofar you get sick later in life, while not being ill earlier in life, aging might be the most important factor therein.

Don't believe me?

You know that autophagy keeps your heteroplasmy rates down. In other animals, it has already been demonstrated that autophagy is closely related to longevity.[60-63] As humans, we also need to stimulate autophagy, to live longer and better.

Autophagy has many benefits. Autophagy:

  • Increases your lifespan.[87]
  • Protects against excessive reactive oxygen species.[88-90] Excessive reactive oxygen species lie at the basis of the eventual degeneration of your mitochondria.
  • Improves the functioning of your immune system.[91]
  • Protects again diseases. Examples are neurodegeneration, infections, cancer, autoimmune disease, and heart disease.[95-98]

If you observe these points closely, you see that autophagy counters all the problems associated with higher heteroplasmy rates!

Let's thus at how you can stimulate autophagy.


Let's look at the five most important strategies to increase autophagy.   

Strategy 1: Prioritize Sleep

The best way to buy time, and to prevent your mitochondria from losing their function, is to make sure you sleep well:[22]

autophagy is a metaphor for time

The better your sleep quality, the better your autophagy becomes. And the better your autophagy, the better your mitochondrial function becomes - and the more you'll slow aging.

What's the best way to improve sleep? Improve your body's circadian rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm your body's clock that keeps track of the time of the day. That circadian rhythm also controls almost all processes in your body. That rhythm is regulated - among others - by the light that enters your eyes.

How to influence that circadian rhythm?

Your eyes need to have the right input of light (sunlight), at the right times of the day, for your circadian clock function optimally. In addition, your body also needs to experience darkness at certain periods of the day - otherwise your circadian clock malfunctions.

Why does that circadian rhythm matter so much?

Your circadian rhythm and autophagy are directly linked.

The better your circadian rhythm is controlled, the better your autophagy processes become. The worse your circadian rhythm becomes, the worse autophagy functions in your body.

What does that light input mean for you?

  1. You should be exposed to sunlight during the day. Sunlight wakes you up, creates certain neurotransmitters in your eye, such as serotonin and dopamine. That serotonin is converted into melatonin at night. Sunlight also creates vitamin D in your skin and literally charges your body's cells with energy.

    For a more elaborate treatment of this topic, read my previous article about why you need sunlight.

    The vitamin D that's created in your skin through sunlight exposure also increases autophagy processes.[94]
  2. You need to block blue and green light at night. High-quality blue blocking glasses that block blue and green light are your best option here. Artificial light, coming from LED and fluorescent light bulbs, smartphones, televisions, and tablets, all tell your brain that it's daytime - or that it's time to wake up.

    If you want to understand why blue blockers are absolutely necessary, read my blog post about blue blockers. When you're experiencing total darkness, a hormone called melatonin is increased in your body. Melatonin increases autophagy.[84-86] Melatonin also increase your sleep quality.

    If you immediately want to buy blue blockers, click here, and use the NBH1 code at checkout for a 10% discount.
  3. You need to eat at the right times. No (large) meals after sunset. Eating - especially proteins - tell your body that it's daytime and that you should stay active. Eating after sunset lowers your sleep quality, and also makes you fat. Eating after sunset also lowers autophagy.

  4. Avoid electromagnetic frequencies. Any electronic devices - especially closer to your body - are going to disrupt your mitochondria. Your mitochondria don't just function on chemistry, but they function on light and electricity as well. Modern electronics can disrupt these electrical and light signals in your body - and in your mitochondria.[121] 

  5. This point should almost be self-evident now. Don't be awake at night. Night shifts and late-night partying, are terrible for your long-term health. Do I have proof? Yes. Night shifts increase your chances for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.[68-72]

Now that you know that you need to sleep well, let's look at our second option.

Strategy 2: Cold Exposure.

A second strategy to increase your autophagy levels is to expose yourself to cold.

Cold is not necessarily a stressor if the intensities are low.


Let me give an example. When you start with cold showers, they are really hard and might give a stress response. As you get used to these showers, they will not give you a stress response at all - you have become better cold-adapted.

wintertime maximizes autophagy

Cold exposure - such as cold showers or ice baths - can increase your autophagy levels.[79-82] Cold exposure can also massively increase your sleep quality. Remember that the most important time when autophagy occurs is during sleep.  

Cold baths - first thing in the morning, in a fasted state - are my favorite type of cold exposure. Should you do these? It depends. You need to have good overall health first, to do cold baths on an empty stomach.

(Nerd section: the importance of cold exposure and the possibility to adapt to cold, can vary per populations. How well you adapt to cold depends on what is called your "haplotype". The haplotype denotes the specific type of mitochondrial DNA that you inherited from your ancestors.

Some haplotypes, such as those found mostly in Africa, are very tightly coupled. That tight coupling means that your mitochondria do not produce a lot of heat as a byproduct of food consumption. If you have a European haplotype, however, then your mitochondria produce heat as a byproduct of eating food. The European haplotype does have a disadvantage though: more heat means that less energy is directed towards movement purposes.

The African haplotypes, and to a lesser extent, the haplotypes closely deriving from that African haplotype, should emphasize sunlight more than cold exposure.

For most people, regular cold showers or cold baths are more than intense enough. Cold is almost always better than no cold, as long as you do not overdo it. 

If you want to know how to integrate cold exposure into your life, read my previous article on this topic.

Strategy 3: Avoiding Carbohydrates (Sometimes)

Always avoiding carbohydrates is probably a poor strategy. However, consuming carbohydrates all year long is a poor strategy for many people as well.


If you're not living at the equator, then abundant carbohydrates are present only during late spring to early fall.

low carb diets in relation to regeneration

If you're not living at the equator, your ancestors thus wound up without any carbohydrates once in a while. If you're living in Norway, Canada, or Russia, for example, carbohydrates do not grow in large quantities in the wintertime. 

When your diet does not contain any carbohydrates, that diet is called a "ketogenic diet". In a ketogenic diet, you thus get all your calories from proteins and fats. During a ketogenic diet your body cannot burn any carbohydrates as fuel, and switches to burning (body)fats.

When your body exclusively burns fats to get its fuel, that is called "ketosis". Getting into ketosis can increase autophagy as well.[92; 93]

I do, however, have to re-emphasize this point: you should not be in ketosis year long. The safest time to consume carbohydrates is when they are in season at your specific location.

Strategy 4: Fasting, If You're In Good Health

First of all, fasting is not for everyone. The best strategy is to fast only if you're in good overall health.

Nevertheless, fasting is one of the best ways to massively increase your autophagy processes:

periodic fasting and health

To fast, you need periods in which you do not consume any food at all, especially protein.[73-74]

Some of the more popular fasting methods are fasting one day a week, with a 24-hour period in which you do not eat at all. An alternative is to eat within an 8-hour window each day while fasting for the remaining 16 hours.

My personal favorite is a 14-hour fasting window every day. I usually eat my last meal around 4 PM and will have my breakfast around 6 AM the next morning. This 14-hour fasting window does not take any effort on my part.

Remarkably, many people in modern societies have their eating schedules backward. The average person has a 15-hour feeding window, instead of 15-hour fasting windows.[76-78] 

Fasting is yet another reason to avoid eating late at night. If you keep eating at night, autophagy processes are reduced, or only activated later at night. Over time, that later period adds up for your mitochondria.

Strategy 5: Exercise

Exercise can increase your autophagy levels as well.[99-102] In your daily regimen, you should always include some form of exercise - or better: movement.

exercise for promoting mitochondrial health

For most people in modern society movement is the better option.

There's a reason why I mention exercise last:

Over-exercising, without adequate recovery, can actually decrease autophagy over time. If you train too much, you will reduce your sleep quality. In modern society, lots of people are exercising too much.


Compared to say 30 years ago, most people recover poorly from their workouts, because their sleep quality is so undermined.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you decide to exercise:

  1. Do you sometimes wake up, feeling you could have slept more?
  2. Are you waking up during the night?
  3. Did you develop a habit to sleep in during the weekends?
  4. Do your bedtimes vary a lot on different days?
  5. Are you not very energetic during the morning?

If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, don't exercise intensely more than once a week. Instead, fix your sleep issues first.

And I don't care how exercise makes you feel.

Lots of people exercise to feel good. Feeling good is a poor reason to exercise because those good feelings mostly originate from stress hormones.

Instead, you should feel good without having to exercise (heavily). Tons of exercise has essentially become a crutch to feel good. Other crutches that are popular to feel good in society are alcohol addictions, binge-watching television, drug use, accumulating more and more material possessions, and so forth...

Choose your addictions wisely. Make sure to become addicted to good sleep and sunlight first.

Sleep and sunlight are - and should be - your natural addictions.

Once you sleep and recover well, exercise is a great way to keep autophagy processes in your body high. In that instance, exercise optimally slows down aging and disease. 


In this conclusion, I want to place this problem of mitochondria into context:

Is the problem of aging solved, now we better understand mitochondrial function?


To think that now the role of mitochondria is better understood, disease and aging can be stopped - that's what I would call self-deceptive. By discovering the role mitochondria play in our body, we're just able to understand health, aging, and nature better.

Why do I think the discovery of heteroplasmy, and the role of heteroplasmy in aging, is not final? Well, science has been evolving for hundreds of years. Existing scientific dogmas have been overturned every few decades. The mitochondrial "paradigm" will eventually be overturned as well and certainly be refined.

I think it's delusional to think that we've got health and disease figured out in 2018.


Well, I propose a simple test, to "measure" whether disease and aging can be fully and completely understood through the mitochondrial DNA model:

"Are we, with this model, able to prevent and control all aging and all disease, regardless of circumstance?"

At this point, the answer is a resounding "no".

In simple terms: if our understanding of mitochondria does not allow us to cure all disease, then our understanding of the human body is not yet fully correct.

This means that we still only understand nature's tip of the iceberg. Progress in science is never fully completed - we have to keep digging deeper.

health foundations program

For other articles, see:

Why Vitamin D Supplements Are A Poor Choice: Why You Need Sunlight Exposure Instead

The Ultimate Blue Light Filtering Glasses Guide 

Cold Thermogenesis: Cold Showers and Ice Baths For Fat-Loss, Energy, Mental Well-Being and Performance

Vitamin K: Why You're Deficient (And What To Do About It)

For further reading on mitochondria, consider:

*Post can contain affiliate links. Read my affiliate, medical, and privacy disclosure for more information.

Author: Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MSc - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MSc).


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