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Fuelling Mitochondria for Illness Recovery


Severe Illness takes its toll on Mitochondria

Recovering from severe illness, mainly after a hospital stays in the intensive care unit (ICU), may take months or even years, resulting in a higher risk of developing another severe illness in the future.

An ICU stay may also lead to lingering motor and sensory neurological deficits and long-term symptoms such as muscle weakness, reduced exercise capacity, impaired pulmonary function, and mental health problems; these long-term symptoms are collectively called post-intensive care syndrome.

One reason for the lingering symptoms may stem from impaired mitochondrial function. Many ICU patients, especially those who develop sepsis, experience reduced adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, known as bioenergetic dysfunction or failure.

Reduced Energy output in ICU patients

One study showed ICU patients producing about half the ATP as healthy controls. Thus, targeting the mitochondria may help with recovery and improve muscle function and other symptoms.

The critical nutrients for mitochondrial function include B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10. Additional components aiding in mitochondrial health are melatonin, carnitine, taurine, lipoic acids, nitrate, and resveratrol.

Nutrients role in mitochondrial health

These nutrients and compounds have a wide range of roles, including cofactors in the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) cycle, antioxidant activities, beta-oxidation roles, mitochondrial biogenesis stimulators, or the roles in electron acceptors in the mitochondrial complexes.

Fuelling the mitochondria with these supportive nutrients may improve mitochondrial function and thereby support recovery from critical illness.

Combined supplementation for Mitochondrial health improvement

One study on mitochondrial disorders found benefits from a combined supplement of creatine, CoQ10, and lipoic acid. Another study found that combined supplementation with CoQ10, carnitine, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, and vitamin K1 improved ATP synthesis in patients with mitochondrial disorders. Although neither of these studies looked directly at critically ill patients, they did demonstrate that dedicated nutrients can enhance mitochondrial function and energy production.

Lower levels of Mitochondrial nutrients in ICU patients

Studies have found lower levels of many critical mitochondrial nutrients in ICU patients and those recovering from severe illness, including the B vitamins (especially thiamine), vitamin C, selenium, zinc, CoQ10, melatonin, and carnitine. These studies have not directly assessed whether treating these deficiencies through supplementation or nutrition therapy, especially multiple ones, will improve recovery. However, critically ill patients may experience a similar improvement to mitochondrial function through the support of mitochondrial health by repleting any deficiencies in the nutrients necessary for mitochondrial function.

Although the research may not elucidate the complete answers yet, the evidence demonstrates a potential role in mitochondrial health in recovery from severe illness. Finding ways to ensure the mitochondria have sufficient capacity to function optimally may also support recovery from severe illness through diet and nutritional support.

By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS