The mitochondria is often described as the “powerhouse” of the cell and it supplies the energy the body needs to function properly and efficiently.
Previously, we have discussed mitochondria as related to cancer, in episode 16 with Dr. Thomas Seyfried and in episode 3 where Dr. Terry Wahls described mitochondrial health and the link to autoimmune disorders.
This episode will focus on mitochondrial function and the symptoms we experience when our mitochondria have sustained damage from either environmental factors, natural aging, or other exposures. Often this leads to general fatigue, cognitive decline, or physical decline and the effects can be seen in patients who suffer from chronic fatigue illnesses, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer and various other diseases.
Lipid Replacement Therapy (LRT) has been shown to repair the mitochondrial membrane damage and improve symptoms for many patients suffering from these chronic diseases and other natural aging symptoms.
– Garth Nicolson PhD
Today’s guest is Dr. Garth Nicolson who is an extremely accomplished research scientist best known for his work with Gulf War Syndrome, and Lipid Replacement Therapy (LRT). He is the president, founder, chief scientific officer, and researcher at The Institute for Molecular Medicine in Huntington Beach, CA where he conducts most of his current research.
He was the leading authority serving the United States House of Representatives on the study of the cause, treatment and prevention of Gulf War Syndrome on suspicion of biological warfare. For his service he was conferred honorary Colonel of the US Army Special Forces and honorary US Navy SEAL.
He has published over 600 peer reviewed research papers and served on the editorial boards of 30 scientific journals. In 2003 he introduced LRT and its benefits for the first time, shedding light on the importance of mitochondrial function and repair of damaged membranes and its benefits for aging, cancer and chronic disease states.
The episode highlights, biomarkers, and links to the apps, devices and labs and everything else mentioned are below. Enjoy the show and let me know what you think in the comments!
What You’ll Learn
- Mitochondrial function decline is the underlying problem in many chronic diseases (6:43).
- Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell providing energy – like a battery – which fuels the cell’s function (7:43).
- Oxidative damage to the lipid membrane of the mitochondria is the most universal cause of damage (8:38).
- Damage to the lipid membrane harms the phospholipid molecules causing “leakiness” across the membrane (11:30).
- If you don’t produce enough energy in a cell, you lose the function of that cell (13:15).
- Damage to the energy process in a system can occur during aging, chronic illness, viral/bacterial infection, toxic exposure, etc. (13:55).
- Some patients have restored their endocrine systems by repairing their mitochondria in some way (15:53).
- Chronic fatigue illnesses (chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, etc.) are directly related to loss of mitochondrial function, which is mostly true for many other diseases as well, such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders (16:45).
- Much of the mitochondrial function decline occurs because of the natural aging process (18:46).
- For instance, improving the function of a 90 year old, fatigued patient greatly improves mental and physical functions for the patient (19:01).
- Repairing the mitochondrial function for patients who have any of these diseases is not a cure-all, however it is a step in the right direction and definitely supports the overall recovery for the patient (21:21).
- Dr. Nicolson discusses the importance of lipid replacement therapy (LRT) as a way to replace damaged membrane phospholipids to improve mitochondrial function (22:48).
- LRT also functions to detox and repair chemically damaged cells as the lipids delivered to the system can soak any chemicals out from the membranes and remove them from the body (27:11).
- Dr. Nicolson works with populations who have had particular exposures however everyone has been exposed to various chemicals throughout their lifetime (31:05).
- Using both LRT and infrared saunas can speed up the long, slow process of detoxification and recovery (32:47).
- LRT can reduce the symptoms of detoxification and recovery; for example LRT used in conjunction with chemotherapy for cancer patients helps the patient manage the side effects of the cancer treatments (34:50).
- Patients generally see improvement of symptoms between 10 days and 3 months after the start of LRT but when therapy is removed the mitochondrial function declines again and symptoms return (36:39).
- Mitochondrial function can be measured directly by testing the mitochondrial membranes in the white blood cells (38:38).
- LRT is becoming more popular especially with naturopathic doctors and individual people as you do not need a prescription to obtain these natural supplements (40:37).
- An increased dose of lipids is crucial for patients with severe chemical damage or mitochondrial damage so luckily no one has reported negative side effects yet as lipids are natural substances of the body anyways (44:37)!
- Cholesterol markers and homocysteine levels have been shown to improve when using LRT (45:48).
- LRT is proving to be effective as an anti-aging treatment, a therapy for various diseases processes, and as a co-treatment option for cancer patients to reduce negative side effects and fatigue related to traditional therapies (46:29).
- LRT works well at improving energy systems however dosages, etc. do have to be optimized to work with each person’s unique system (50:26).
- LRT is a lifelong solution and a long term treatment because we are constantly exposed to new toxins, infections, and traumas throughout our lives (52:17).
- The minimum supplement needed for LRT is NT factor lipids. (55:32).
Garth Nicolson PhD
- Garth Nicolson PhD
- The Institute for Molecular Medicine: Founded by Dr. Nicolson in an effort to help fight chronic disease through research and discovery.
- Garth Nicolson Research: general PubMed results for Dr. Nicolson.
- Garth Nicolson LRT Research: PubMed research results in regards to LRT.
Tools & Tactics
- Lipid Replacement Therapy (LRT): Used to restore and repair mitochondria function by replacing damaged lipids in the membrane and restoring the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy for the cell. (See relevant lipid supplements below).
- Infrared Sauna: Used to remove fat soluble toxins in particular from the body. Garth Nicolson recommends using this along side LRT to help with the removal of chemicals from the cells, which tends to improve results.
- NT Factor EnergyLipids: NT Factor is the lipid based supplement that is the main component used in LRT. There are a variety of products including this one, which contain NT Factor. Read more about these on NTFactor.com, as recommended for use by Dr. Nicolson.
- NT Factor Energy Wafers: The specific NT Factor product that is “child friendly”, as the wafers easily dissolve in the mouth and do not need to be swallowed.
- ATP Fuel: In addition to NT Factor, this supplement also contains NADH and coenzyme Q10 which also aid in the energy production cycle in a cell.
- Cholesterol: A cholesterol panel covers a number of markers related to lipoproteins (such as HDL and LDL) in the blood. LDL and HDL are standard markers used to track cardiovascular risk. Dr. Nicolson has seen LDL drop and HDL increase with use of LRT – which typically indicates improvement and lower cardiovascular risk.
- Homocysteine: A marker often used to assess cardiovascular risk. Higher values relate to increase cardio risk. This marker is often related to methylation SNPs like MTHFR as discussed in episode 5 with Ben Lynch. Dr. Nicolson has seen homocysteine levels drop with LRT also.
- Mitochondrial Membrane Potential: An approach to assessing the health and functioning of a cell’s mitochondria by looking at it’s potential or voltage. In the same way as with a battery, if it is functioning, the outer membrane of mitochondria has an electric output and thus a voltage.
Lab Tests, Devices and Apps
- Inner Mitochondrial Membrane Potential via Rhodamine 123: The status and functioning of the mitochondria are assessed via analysis of mitochondria inside white blood cells with the dye rhodamine 123 and a fluorescence microscope (see study here). The test provides a quantitative fluorescence value indicating the health of the mitochondria and integrity of the membrane. This test is not easily accessible and is used for research purposes.
Other People, Books & Resources
- Researched Nutritionals: This company produces some of the products that contain NT Factor, including ATP Fuel.
Full Interview Transcript
[Garth Nicolson]: Well it’s a pleasure to be on your program.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: To start off with, I was really interested to find out how you first started working with mitochondrial function. Where it first came up for you, and you started taking an interest in it.
[Garth Nicolson]: Well this really goes back to our work on Gulf War veterans. And from that we did work on civilians with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia Syndrome and related fatiguing illnesses. And one of the underlying problems in all of these – and it turns out any chronic disease – is mitochondrial function. There’s just not enough energy around to provide all the necessary high energy molecules in a cell to perform all the functions necessary.
Then you get into energy deficits, and if the energy deficits are systemic, well you can have a chronic condition with lack of energy, lack of mental alertness, all kinds of other additional problems. Because basically every cell requires energy to perform. And some cells, such as the nervous system, require a lot of it – six times what most cells require – and so they’re particularly sensitive to losses in energy function.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: It sounds like there’s a wide variety of symptoms that could be reflecting some kind of mitochondrial function damage, or interruption. Is that the case? Is it quite a wide variety of symptoms?
[Garth Nicolson]: There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with loss of mitochondrial function. And as I mentioned before, the mitochondria provide energy to your cells. In fact, almost all the energy is provided by mitochondrial function in our cells.
If you’re breathing oxygen, you’re using that oxygen to provide it to mitochondria, so they can convert it to energy, along with other molecules that they use in the process called Electron Transport System. And it’s a complicated conversion system which converts, essentially, stores that you have in your cells to high energy molecules that you need for doing a number of different functions.
Now in different clinical conditions, we find that these people have given signs and symptoms, but often they’re also related to mitochondrial function, because a lot of these problems arise when there isn’t enough energy left for cells to perform their functions necessary, and consequently this can have profound effects.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, and what kinds of damage can interfere with mitochondrial function?
[Garth Nicolson]: Well there are a variety of different types of damage. We’ve concentrated on damage to the lipid membrane of the mitochondria, because this turns out to be the most sensitive form of damage, or the most universal form of damage that we find in mitochondria. They’re particularly sensitive to oxidative damage.
And oxidative damage can occur, for example, during infection, during high performance issues, if you get run down – for example, physically, mentally, you name it – or because of infections or other damages, disease associated damages, mitochondrial function suffers. And in order to recover from all of these, you do have to have mitochondrial function available, because you can’t repair and recover without it.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: So are we all constantly repairing the lipid membranes, as you are talking about? Is this a constant? Because when you mentioned, for instance, high performance, could that be someone like an athlete, or someone who’s heavily into fitness? Are they constantly causing this type of damage with oxidative stress, which then has to be repaired?
[Garth Nicolson]: Well, that’s true, but it’s also true during aging, for example, where our membranes normally get damaged during aging processes. And mitochondrial membranes are particularly sensitive to aging, and as we age, they get more damaged. And so if you look at a 90 year old, many of these 90 plus year old people have lost almost half their mitochondrial function.
And a lot of that is due to accumulated damage in the mitochondria, and a lot of the damage is due to the damage to the mitochondrial membrane. And the inner mitochondrial membrane is integral to our production of energy, and if that’s damaged, they become leaky, and lose function, and they can’t maintain the trans-membrane potential, the electrical potential across the inner mitochondrial membrane, which is absolutely necessary to produce high energy molecules.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Right, right. Well to take a step back, when you’re talking about trans-membrane, what’s the function of the membrane in terms of generating electricity? Because basically the mitochondria are a bit like our power cells, you know our batteries, which feed our cells and the rest of our body with energy. But how do they do that, and what’s the role of the membrane in that process?
[Garth Nicolson]: Well I always liken mitochondria to the little batteries inside our cells. And like any battery, it has to be insulated to selectively permit a trans-membrane potential across different membranes in our mitochondria. It’s a biological membrane instead of a synthetic membrane that we have in batteries, but it provides the same kind of insulation necessary to separate electrical charges.
And so when this separation of electrical charges occurs, you can make a battery out of it. Essentially that battery drives the production of high energy molecules in the mitochondria just as it does in a normal battery.
[Damien Blenkinsopp]: Great. And what types of damage are we talking about when we’re talking about this membrane getting damaged?
[Garth Nicolson]: Well there’s certain molecules in the membrane. It can be the phospholipids that make up the matrix of the membrane. But when they’re damaged, there can be enhanced leakiness across the membrane. So it’s like you get a leakiness if you take the insulation off a battery it will leak, and you’ll lose the charge of the battery.
The same thing in the mitochondria. If they become leaky, and the inner membrane becomes leaky, you can lose the trans-membrane potential, and then you can’t form the high energy molecules. There are also some critical lipid molecules, like cardiolipin, that are exqu