Mitochondria are the “energy-producing factories” of your cells, the entities that create the energy to sustain life and thrive, and are foundational to better health.
The health of your mitochondria is essential for staying healthy into old age, but what are mitochondria?
Mitochondria, the energy producing factories of your cells
The “cell” is the main unit of account in biology in the same way that currency or money is the main unit of account in economics. In biology, that statement implies that the simplest of organisms and the most complex of organisms are made up of what are called “cells”.
Bacteria and archaea are examples of such very simple single-celled organisms - made up of only one cell. One of the main theories in evolutionary biology claims that somewhere more than a billion years ago, two such single-celled organisms - bacteria and archaea - fused together. That combination then allowed for the creation of a more complex life.
Different parts of the cell began to specialise in more specific functions. Over time, more and more complex life emerged through creating more and more cells within the same organism. The single-celled organisms of the past thus still lay at the basis of all complex life today.
Many different subparts of human cells include, at the centre, your DNA genome, the mitochondria for energy production and immune function, and the cell membrane that allows for nutrients and other compounds to enter the cell and debris to exit it.
The number, size, and quality of mitochondria are not set in stone. Through different mechanisms, such as environmental stressors working on the organism, sleep, pharmacological interventions, supplements, and other methods, the number, size, and quality of your mitochondria are affected. Even psychological stress has an effect on your mitochondria, having the potential to lower energy production with chronic stress.
Why is mitochondria important?
The size, number, and quality of your mitochondria determine your energy-producing capacity in everyday life. If you’ve got very few and small mitochondria, you won't feel as good, and won’t be as energetic. It is estimated that 80%+ of the diseases of modern lifestyles, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart and blood vessel disease, are directly caused by mitochondrial dysfunction.
Once energy production goes down, disease risk goes up. Thus, keeping your mitochondria healthy is extremely important, especially as your age.
Fortunately, your mitochondria health is not set in stone. The environment, lifestyle, nutrition, and psychological choices (i.e. your “mindset”), all affect how your mitochondria age and your total level of well-being.
Exploring what you can do to keep your mitochondria healthy into old age, and how to have stronger, bigger, and more plentiful mitochondria will keep you youthful into your old age.
How a sauna benefits mitochondria
An important concept in how a sauna benefits the mitochondria is called hormesis.
Hormesis signifies a short-term stressor on an organism, that almost always demands a lot from its mitochondria, resulting in the growth of the mitochondria.
Many different strategies have a so-called hormetic effect. These strategies include exercising for a long or short duration, cold exposure, plant compounds in vegetables such as “polyphenols” and much more.
More importantly, heating your body also has a hormetic effect.
Infrared saunas are the perfect tool to optimise the health of your mitochondria.
As you delve into the fascinating link between infrared saunas and mitochondria, you'll encounter a concept that is fundamental to this connection - hormesis.
Hormesis plays a key role in how our bodies respond to the heat exposure from infrared saunas, leading to enhanced mitochondrial function.
But what exactly is hormetic stress, and how does it benefit our health? We've explored this concept in depth in our latest blog post titled "What is Hormetic Stress?"
There, we unravel the science behind hormetic stress and its profound impacts on our health and wellness.
So, if you're intrigued by the power of infrared saunas to boost your mitochondria and want to understand the underlying mechanism, we invite you to visit our new blog post.
Heat shock proteins and infrared saunas
Increasing your core body temperature activates, heat shock proteins.
Heat shock proteins are thermometer-like substances contained in your cells that are progressively activated by colder and hotter conditions. Exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight is another way you can activate these heat-shock proteins and is one explanatory factor as to why sensible sunlight can be very healthy for you in limited quantities.
As a result, activating infrared sauna heat shock proteins on a regular basis helps increase longevity, aids in the creation of new blood vessels, and upgrades your mitochondria. The same is true for keeping your nervous system in optimal condition.
Unfortunately, the research into heat shock proteins is still in the early stages. In time, the mechanism by which heat shock proteins optimise your overall health will probably be better understood and more benefits on different biological processes will be found.
If you experience better sleep, a feeling of well-being, and higher energy levels over time, you’re probably found the sweet spot in terms of supplying your body with a proper dose of hormesis. If you’re breaking down, however, and you’re not sleeping properly, you’re feeling less well, and you’re beaten down, it’s probably a sign that you’re not recovering well enough.
Sleep is important as the repair processes of mitochondria mainly occur during the night time, even though it’s a continuous process.
At night the body creates new mitochondria, fuses existing mitochondria into bigger ones, and clears out malfunctioning and old mitochondria for new ones.
Decreased mental and physical well-being is thus a sign that these mitochondria-enhancing processes are not functioning at the proper level. Improved physical and mental well-being, to the contrary, does signal that your overall health is improving and that you’re reaping the benefits of hormetic stress.
Keep in mind that not all stress is created equal.
If you’re under lots of psychological stress, your ability to cope with hormetic stress goes down, and vice versa. If you’re ruminating about an important deadline for next week, or you’re generally anxious, the body requires more energy to deal with that psychological stress. In that case, you should go easy on the hormetic stressors in your life, such as exercise, cold exposure, and infrared sauna sessions.
Psychological stress doesn’t have the health-promoting benefits associated with hormetic stress.
Therefore, infrared saunas are a great tool to create healthier mitochondria, if and only you’re recovering well.
Far infrared saunas and mitochondria
In terms of infrared saunas, you’ve got several options. First of all, there’s the far infrared sauna, which, as the name suggests, exposed your body to far-infrared wavelengths.
That infrared spectrum also contains what is called near-infrared and mid infrared. All three types of infrared have their own unique properties and health benefits.
If you want exposure to all three types of infrared, then a full-spectrum infrared sauna is your best best.
The energy-producing process in your mitochondria involves many different steps, and in each step, vitamins, minerals (chemical substances), electrons, and protons either increase or decrease energy production.
For instance, if you’re low on certain minerals such as magnesium or zinc, energy production is impeded. The same is true if you’ve got excess heavy metals, and toxins in your body (heavy metals impede several steps of the energy-production process).
But, what many people don’t know is that certain types of near-infrared light can also make several steps of the energy-creation process in your mitochondria more efficient. By adding additional types of light to the mix of your exposure in a sauna, the cells in your body will function more efficiently and effectively.
This mechanism of exposing your body to light doesn’t exclusively function through the earlier “hormetic” or “stressful” effect. Instead, the light works as a nutrient.
Red light therapy and mitochondria
Red light therapy provides your body with both red light and near-infrared light, both of which are non-heating.
For that reason, we offer a Clearlight® RLT Tower to accompany your sauna and increase the health benefits even more. The Clearlight® RLT Tower can be placed in both a far infrared and a full-spectrum sauna, dramatically enhancing the sauna and mitochondria benefits you’ll experience.
Sauna and mitochondria is just the beginning
The exciting research on the effects of light and heat on human health is just getting started. Discoveries are made very quickly, and, the status of the science of how both light and heat affect health is nothing like it was two decades ago.
Every day, new discoveries are made on how spending time in the heat or cold can cut your diabetes risk, make your heart healthier, and improve your well-being. Your mitochondria are found at the center of many of these processes.
And, science right now posits that 80%+ of lifestyle diseases originate, in part, because of some dysfunction in your mitochondria. Keeping your mitochondria healthy not only makes you more energetic and feel better but is also the key to preventing many of the diseases that begin to plague so many people once they enter their 50s, 60s, and 70s. A high-quality sauna might just contribute massively to countering that tendency.
The future is bright…
If you're interested in an infrared sauna cabin for home, click here to view our range of full-spectrum saunas, far-infrared saunas, and outdoor saunas.