As functional medicine clinicians, our primary goal is to optimize patient health and well-being using a root cause approach. A vital component to achieve this is understanding the intricate mechanisms contributing to cellular energy production.


Symptoms and Causes of Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells, are essential for generating energy. As such, mitochondrial dysfunction can result in symptoms like excess fatigue and other complaints common to almost every chronic disease. Mitochondrial dysfunction can manifest as a wide range of health problems, such as neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction and cancer.1 There are many triggers of mitochondrial dysfunction, including obesity, chronic infections, heavy metal toxicity, micronutrient deficiencies, drug-induced nutrient deficiencies and direct drug-induced mitochondrial toxicity.2-7

By improving mitochondrial health, we can enhance cellular energy production, leading to better overall health. In this blog post, we will explore the three pillars of mitochondrial support: diet, membrane lipid replacement, and micronutrient and antioxidant support with supplements.


How to Treat Mitochondrial Dysfunction

The term salugenesis refers to the process and steps of health promotion that must be accomplished for healing from any injury or stress.8 The key elements of salugenesis include a balanced diet, regular exercise, toxin elimination, adequate sleep, social connections and connecting with nature. Because our daily choices significantly impact mitochondrial health, it is paramount to encourage patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle to maximize their cellular energy levels.


1. Diet and Intermittent Fasting

Diet especially plays a pivotal role in supporting salugenesis and healthy mitochondrial function. The Mediterranean diet in particular has been well studied for its promotion of health and longevity. Rich in polyphenols, fiber and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, the Mediterranean diet has been shown in several experimental models to increase mitochondrial metabolism, biogenesis and antioxidant capacity.9

Intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating may also enhance mitochondrial function. Studies suggest that fasting promotes cellular autophagy, which helps eliminate damaged mitochondria and promote healthy mitochondrial generation.

Furthermore, fasting has been shown to upregulate antioxidant gene expression of the genes TFAM, SOD2 and Nrf2.10 These antioxidant genes, particularly Nrf2, protect our cells and mitochondria from environmental stressors by supporting detoxification processes, reducing mitochondrial free radical damage and maximizing mitochondrial function.11


2. Membrane Lipid Replacement

The integrity of mitochondrial lipid membranes is vital for optimal energy production. As oxidative stress increases, membrane lipids are oxidized, becoming more rigid and fragmented, which allows ATP to leak out. Membrane lipid replacement (MLR) is a promising therapeutic strategy for restoring and maintaining healthy mitochondrial membrane fluidity and mitochondrial membrane potential for energy generation.

MLR uses high doses (2-10 grams per day) of food-derived phospholipids to remove damaged, oxidized membrane lipids in the mitochondria, improving mitochondrial function and reducing fatigue.12 Specifically, MLR has been shown to increase mitochondrial function and decrease fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other fatiguing conditions.13


3. Micronutrient and Antioxidant Supplements

Micronutrients and antioxidants play a crucial role in supporting mitochondrial health. The following micronutrients have been well studied for their ability to support energy and combat fatigue:14

  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamins C and D
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
  • Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC)
  • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)

L-carnitine supplementation demonstrated significant improvements in physical fatigue, mental fatigue and fatigue severity.15 In fact, combining these micronutrient strategies can result in significant clinical synergy. A 2006 study by Kaiser et al of HIV-infected patients taking stable HAART found that the patients who took the combination of 1,000 mg ALC, 400 mg ALA and 1,200 mg NAC daily along with key micronutrients significantly increased their CD4 lymphocyte counts by 24% after 12 weeks.16

Patients should also be encouraged to consume antioxidants in their diet, but given changes in nutritional density from modern agricultural practices, supplementation with plant-derived antioxidants, such as sulforaphane from broccoli, EGCG from green tea and resveratrol from grapes, can give mitochondria a much-needed boost by reducing oxidative stress.17-19


The Bottom Line

Addressing lifestyle factors, particularly a nutrient-dense diet rich in polyphenols, as well as adequate sleep and movement, can all help to optimize mitochondrial function and recovery. By focusing on these three key categories—salugenesis, MLR, and micronutrient and antioxidant support—clinicians can help improve mitochondrial health and enhance cellular energy production. Educating patients about the importance of these interventions and encouraging healthy habits can improve health outcomes, vitality and overall well-being.   


For more information on addressing mitochondrial dysfunction with lifestyle and nutrition, click here to download our mitochondria white paper!



Tools to Help You Save Time and Connect with Patients

If you want to help your patients easily understand and commit to your mitochondrial dysfunction treatment plan, check out our Mitochondrial Health Patient Education Pad, featuring eye-catching illustrations plus lifestyle and nutraceutical support strategies.

Also, the Healthy & Balanced Meal Guide provides an easy-to-follow dietary framework based on the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to increase mitochondrial metabolism.9 This tool empowers your patients to stick with your dietary recommendations by following healthy food lists and sample meal plans.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive clinical practice guide on supporting immune health and addressing numerous potential causes of fatigue, check out our Immune Foundations Program In-Practice Guide. It provides case studies and sample protocols designed for convenient, daily use in your practice.

Are you just getting started on or looking to level up your functional medicine practice? Our resources will help you save time and effortlessly engage with your patients. Join the LMRC membership to get the best value on resources and one-on-one implementation support with our team of Practice Consultants. We're committed to the success of your practice!



Head shot of Kareem Kandil, MD, ND

Kareem Kandil, MD, ND graduated from medical school at Ross University School of Medicine. He went on to do an observership in integrative medicine and then pursued his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL.




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