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Scary Signs and Causes of Mitochondrial Disease

With the Bloody Long Walk in Canberra and Sydney on the horizon this month, it’s worth taking a look into mitochondrial disease, including its causes and signs. Plus, we’ll be looking into the two different types of this disease, along with unveiling whether dietary and environmental factors play any role in the development or severity of the secondary mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondrial disease is a disorder that prevents our cells from generating adequate energy levels, resulting in debilitating symptoms that affect a whole host of organs. The results can vary in severity, but in some cases, it can cause organ failure and possibly death. It estimated that around 1 in every 5000 people are living with this condition – this makes it the 2nd most common serious genetic disease after cystic fibrosis. There are currently no cures for the condition, and this is why the Bloody Long Walk aims to increase awareness and funds for mitochondrial disease to support patients and drive essential research.

Signs of mitochondrial disease

Mitochondrial disease can affect the whole body, including the brain, nervous system, muscles, eyes, endocrine system, digestion, ears, liver, kidney and heart. Take a look at some of the signs and symptoms:

  • Nerve pain
  • Migraines
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Seizures
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Weakness of eye muscles
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Vision loss
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Arrhythmia
  • Liver failure
  • Diabetes
  • Slow growth and/or short stature

Generally, if a person exhibits 3 or more symptoms – especially covering more than one organ – it’s a large indicator that mitochondrial disease is present.

Types of mitochondrial disease and their risk factors

The first type is known as primary mitochondrial disease and it’s caused by genetic mutations of a person’s DNA. These mutations directly affect the function of cells in producing energy, resulting in those debilitating symptoms we mentioned above.

Secondary mitochondrial disease often accompanies other hereditary diseases and may also arise from a number of environmental factors, according to studies. This disease comes about as a result of mutations to other genes which influence mitochondrial function. These mutations are often genetic, and there are a number of conditions linked with mitochondrial disease, including Wilson’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and Friedreich’s ataxia, while some mutations that cause secondary mitochondrial disease have also been linked to environmental factors like exposure to toxins and inflammation. We know dietary choices can have a major impact on bodily inflammation, with high-sugar foods and ultra-processed products some of the biggest contributors. This is partly due to the effect excess sugar can have on the microbiome, with research finding diets high in added sugars can result in lower microbial diversity in the gut. This is because these sugars promote higher levels of Proteobacteria, which is an indicator of an unbalanced microbiome.

What happens next is digestive issues, visceral fat development and, of course, inflammation. Take a look at some of the foods known for disrupting the gut microbiome:

  • Highly-processed bread and baked goods
  • Snacks like chips, crisps and crackers
  • Confectionery
  • Cereals
  • Flavoured yoghurt and ice cream
  • Fast food and deep-fried food
  • Commercial sauces and dressings

There are a few other conditions believed to affect mitochondrial function when it comes to the secondary disease, these risk factors include:

  • Diabetes – we know type 2 diabetes is greatly driven by lifestyle factors like diet. While sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes, the knock-on effects it can have on insulin function are massive contributors to this global epidemic. With around 436 million adults living with type 2 diabetes and millions of deaths attributed to the condition every year, it’s no small issue – and it also happens to be closely linked with secondary mitochondrial disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer 

While prevention may not be possible for those with mitochondrial disease caused by genetic factors, but some factors involved in secondary mitochondrial disease – such as inflammation and exposure to toxins – may be reduced. Here are a few steps to take to keep your exposure to these environmental factors low:

  • Consume foods rich in antioxidants like berries, leafy greens and green tea
  • Avoid inflammatory foods like ultra-processed foods, confectionery and fast food
  • Consume whole foods
  • Avoid smoking and try to limit exposure to pollution
  • Reduce your alcohol intake
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage risk factor conditions like diabetes and heart disease
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your schedule

Keen to kick unhealthy eating habits to the curb? We’re here to help. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and turning our health dreams into a reality. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:

  1. 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
  2. 90+ member-only recipes.
  3. Community forums to share your journey.
  4. Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
  5. Exclusive content from our panel of experts.

So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to JOIN NOW!

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