Mitochondria Why do we slow down as we age?

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The wonders of modern technology can now help women past the natural age of conception have a baby.  Before embarking upon this madness, I think it should be compulsory for these women to spend a month looking after a 2 -3 year old child and enduring the full blast of youthful energy.  We all slow down from this extreme as we age and this blog looks at why.

A healthy 3 year old bounds along with unstoppable energy, with all cells firing beautifully and in balance.  Should the child catch a cold, some of the cells no longer work optimally, and energy levels drop.  As we age, our cells, little by little, work less than optimally and so our energy levels drop.

Our bodies comprise trillions of cells of hundreds of different types, there being a clear difference between a cheek cell, a brain cell or a cell in the muscle that lifts our big toe up.  Neverthess, the majority of cells have the same components  and the four under the blogoscope today are the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the ribosomes and the mitochondria.  The nucleus acts as the controller of the cell, the cytoplasm or goo of the cell is where the stuff in the cell, including some of the ribosomes live.  The ribosomes, under the control of the nucleus, are like  chemical factories that make the proteins that the cell needs to carry out its various functions.  In order for this to happen and in order for us to live the cells need a power station, called the mitochondria.  The mitochondria takes energy from the food we eat, breaks it down, which produces a little energy without using oxygen and we use this energy to power the arm muscles to wipe our nose or do a short Usain Bolt sprint to pick up the last bargain cabbage.  As the Bolt sprint becomes a victory jog, our body’s muscle cells need to produce energy on a longer term basis, and to do this the mitochondria use oxygen, which produces much more energy, but the energy lacks the explosive possibilities of racing down the aisle clutching a chicken nugget.

Of course, not all our cells are devoted to our leg muscles.  Some are devoted to our skin, for example, and a lifetime of smoking wreaks havoc with these, leaving us a wrinkly mess.  Which is small beer in comparison to what smoking does to the cells in our lungs.

Our DNA resides in the nucleus of the cell and the DNA has a chemical messenger, RNA.  The RNA goes to the ribosomes with instructions as to what proteins to make for the cell to work and the ribosomes and the mitochondria dance together to make the energy essential for life.  So we need to look after our DNA and many things make this difficult, including the many chemicals in our lives: house, car, work, air we breath, stuff we rub into our skin, pesticides on food, cleaning agents – the list is long and worrying.  Added to this lack of vital nutrients like vitamin D makes the job hard for the cells to function efficiently.

As we age, we demonstrate the products of our lifestyle; the further from a paleo-type diet we stray1 the more we mess up our cells.  Sun burn and smoking stress the skin cells, lack of exercise means we can produce less energy, so the appropriate cells need less mitochondria; ignoring the need to sleep well messes up brain cells and so on.  The wear and tear of life plus self-inflicted lack of care of ourselves makes a toddler’s boundless energy and our relative exhaustion easier to understand.



  1. Usain Bolt really does live on chicken nuggets.  This causes people like me great grief.  The man has excellent genes and a very high level of testosterone and can get away with it.  Mere mortals can’t. []

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