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Strengthen Your Health One Cell at a Time

What is Cellular Health?

Cellular health is an emerging concept that overall health depends on the wellbeing and functionality of individual cells. Organelles within the cells of the body play a crucial role in energy synthesis; detoxification and elimination of waste products; reproduction of healthy viable cells; and removal of mutated, damaged cells, among others. These biological processes are intricate and integral; they must occur every day to maintain health at a systemic level. As the average human body is composed of over 30 trillion human cells,[1] this is no small feat.

At a cellular level, numerous processes and reactions are occurring constantly. These include cellular respiration or the generation of ATP (the energy molecule);[2] cellular transport, the packaging and delivery of signalling molecules ranging from inflammatory cytokines to individual ions such as sodium and calcium, required for the generation of an action potential, or nerve impulse;[3] and cellular division, the reproduction of individual DNA strands to produce new cells.[4] Clearly, these processes are crucial in the functioning of the body. When these cellular processes occur on a large scale, they contribute to physiological responses such as fever generation, muscle contraction, or bone repair.

Cellular health hinges on individual cell wellbeing, vital for overall health. Processes like energy synthesis, detoxification, and cellular reproduction are integral. With over 30 trillion cells, maintaining health is complex.

The mitochondria, perhaps one of the best-known cellular organelles, also known as the “powerhouse” of the cell, can be implicated in virtually every chronic disease when dysfunctional.[5] Prone to damage from oxidative stress and inflammation—which can be caused by lifestyle factors, toxin exposure, infection, or chronic disease—mitochondrial function can decline, leading to a reduction in ATP synthesis. The reduction in ATP levels is a common factor in many chronic conditions, leading to the prevalent symptom of fatigue.[6]

Mitochondrial dysfunction is also one of many impaired cellular mechanisms contributing to “inflammaging”: low-grade, systemic, age-related inflammation. This further accelerates the process of aging and increases the risk of chronic disease.[7] Mitochondrial dysfunction has been associated with conditions including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric and gastrointestinal diseases.[8] As these are some of the most ubiquitous conditions affecting the general public, addressing mitochondrial health therefore has to be considered when it comes to preventing and treating these conditions.

Mitochondria, known as the cell’s “powerhouse,” can impact chronic diseases when dysfunctional due to oxidative stress and inflammation. Addressing mitochondrial health is crucial in preventing and treating various conditions.

The Role of Nutrients

Various nutrients are required for proper mitochondrial function. This includes B vitamins, magnesium, omega‑3 fatty acids, and antioxidants including vitamin C and zinc, which can help protect against mitochondrial oxidative damage.[9] Other, potentially lesser-known compounds can also support mitochondrial health, including ʟ‑carnitine, coenzyme Q₁₀ (CoQ₁₀), and nicotinamide nononucleotide (NMN).[10] These compounds are naturally present within the mitochondria and synthesized by the body.[11] Supplementing ʟ‑carnitine, CoQ₁₀, and NMN has been studied in the context of mitochondrial diseases and optimizing mitochondrial function.

ʟ‑Carnitine is an amino acid essential for optimal mitochondrial function, including the transportation of fatty acids for energy production, the protection of cellular membranes, and the removal of fatty-acid metabolic byproducts.[12] ʟ‑Carnitine insufficiency leads to the accumulation of fatty acids and the buildup of toxic metabolic byproducts, directly contributing to insulin resistance, the precursor of diabetes.[13] Amongst those with cardiovascular risk factors, ʟ‑carnitine supplementation has been shown to improve both cholesterol and glucose control.[14]

Supplementing ʟ‑carnitine, CoQ₁₀, and NMN has been studied in the context of mitochondrial diseases and optimizing mitochondrial function.

CoQ₁₀, a commonly used nutraceutical, is a component of the mitochondrial transport chain, facilitating the movement of electrons to generate energy. CoQ₁₀ also exerts strong antioxidant activity.[15] Therapeutic CoQ₁₀ restores electron movement within the mitochondria, thus improving mitochondrial function and increasing cellular antioxidant activity.[16] CoQ₁₀ has been extensively researched regarding cardiovascular disease, where oxidative stress plays a crucial role in its development. Studies have shown that CoQ₁₀ levels are deficient in three out of four patients with heart disease, and these levels decrease further with the severity of the disease. Supplementation with CoQ₁₀ amongst patients with cardiovascular disease exhibits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, improves vasodilation and reduces blood pressure amongst hypertensive patients, improves heart failure classification, and may also have antiarrhythmic effects.[17]

NMN is also an important nutraceutical to consider when examining mitochondrial function. NMN is a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an essential cofactor for various mitochondrial metabolic pathways. In the body, NMN is synthesized from vitamin B₃.[18] NMN is also found naturally occurring in foods including cucumber, broccoli, cabbage, avocado, tomato, and edamame.[19] Both NMN and NAD levels decline with age, as does the body’s ability to convert NMN to NAD.[20] This is associated with reduced mitochondrial energy production, oxidative stress, and inflammation.[21] Supplementation with NMN increases NAD synthesis, reducing age-related inflammation and improving mitochondrial function.[22] In a murine model, NMN administration mitigated age-related decline, including suppressing age-related body-weight gain and insulin resistance, and enhancing energy metabolism.[23] Among older adults, one study found that NMN supplementation helped to reduce drowsiness.[24] Overall, NMN has a potential therapeutic role in relieving fatigue and improving physical performance in older adults.[25] Its antiaging properties may extend to humans, but further research is required to elucidate its effects.[26]

NMN, a precursor to NAD, crucial for mitochondrial function, declines with age. Supplementation boosts NAD synthesis, reducing inflammation and enhancing energy metabolism, with potential antiaging benefits.

Big Picture

Overall, mitochondrial function and cellular health are critical to consider when examining any chronic disease. Microscopic changes and inefficiencies can lead to profound systemic effects, with seemingly minuscule cellular changes to cells potentially contributing to a multitude of chronic diseases. With cellular and mitochondrial dysfunction, a common cornerstone to nearly every chronic condition, optimizing overall health and wellbeing truly does begin one cell at a time.

Dr. Jill Northrup, ND

A Toronto-based naturopathic doctor with a passion for health and natural medicines, she values an evidence-based treatment approach and emphasizes patient education and preventative medicine in her practice.



[1]       Sender, R., S. Fuchs, and R. Milo. “Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body.” PLoS Biology, Vol. 14, No. 8 (2016): e1002533.

[2]       Dunn, J., and M.H. Grider. “Physiology, adenosine triphosphate.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan. 2023 Feb 13.

[3]       Stillwell, W. “Membrane transport.” Chap. 19 in: An Introduction to Biological Membranes, Second Edition, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2016: 423–451.

[4]       [No authors mentioned.] A Brief History of Genetics: Defining Experiments in Genetics. Cambridge: Nature Publishing Group, 2010.

[5]       Nicolson, G.L. “Mitochondrial dysfunction and chronic disease: Treatment with natural supplements.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4 (2014): 35–43.

[6]       Nicolson, op. cit.

[7]       Barcena, M.L., M. Aslam, S. Pozdniakova, K. Norman, Y. Ladilov. “Cardiovascular inflammaging: Mechanisms and translational aspects.” Cells, Vol. 11, No. 6 (2022): 1010.

[8]       Nicolson, op. cit.

[9]       Stillwell, op. cit.

[10]     Nicolson, op. cit.

[11]      Nicolson, op. cit.

[12]      Virmani, M.A., and M. Cirulli. “The role of ʟ‑carnitine in mitochondria, prevention of metabolic inflexibility and disease initiation.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Vol. 23, No. 5 (2022): 2717.

[13]      Asadi, M., M. Rahimlou, F. Shishehbor, and A. Mansoori. “The effect of ʟ‑carnitine supplementation on lipid profile and glycaemic control in adults with cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.” Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 39, No. 1 (2020) : 110–122.

[14]      Asadi et al, op. cit.

[15]      Nicolson, op. cit.

[16]      Neergheen, V., A. Chalasani, L. Wainwright, D. Yubero, R. Montero, R. Artuch, and I. Hargreaves. “Coenzyme Q₁₀ in the treatment of mitochondrial disease.” Journal of Inborn Errors of Metabolism and Screening, Vol. 5 (2019): 18.

[17]      Zozina, V.I., S. Covantev, O.A. Goroshko, L.M. Krasnykh, and V.G. Kukes. “Coenzyme Q₁₀ in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases: Current state of the problem.” Current Cardiology Reviews, Vol. 14, No. 3 (2018): 164–174.

[18]      Shade, C. “The science behind NMN—A stable, reliable NAD+ activator and anti-aging molecule.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2020): 12–14.

[19]      Mills, K.F., S. Yoshida, L.R. Stein, A. Grozio, S. Kubota, Y. Sasaki, P. Redpath, et al. “Long-term administration of nicotinamide mononucleotide mitigates age-associated physiological decline in mice.” Cell Metabolism, Vol. 24, No. 6 (2016): 795–806.

[20]     Shade, op. cit.

[21]      Nadeeshani, H., J. Li, T. Ying, B. Zhang, and J. Lu. “Nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) as an anti-aging health product—Promises and safety concerns.” Journal of Advanced Research, Vol. 37 (2022): 267-278.

[22]     Shade, op. cit.

[23]     Mills et al, op. cit.

[24]     Kim, M., J. Seol, T. Sato, Y. Fukamizu, T. Sakurai, and T. Okura. “Effect of 12‑week intake of nicotinamide mononucleotide on sleep quality, fatigue, and physical performance in older Japanese adults: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study.” Nutrients, Vol. 14, No. 4 (2022) : 755.

[25]     Kim et al, op. cit.

[26]     Nadeeshani et al, op. cit.