Managing Your Mitochondria: Nutrients and Supplements

In last week’s mitochondria post, I explained how burning fat for energy was the foundation for keeping your mitochondria plentiful, happy, and robust. If you can’t access fat for energy, your cellular power plants will not work as well as they can or should. Any mitochondrial health regimen must include that as a basic precept. Once you’ve firmly established your fat-burning beasthood, though? You’ve got to man the power plant with a competent workforce. In putting together your workforce, there are plenty of factors to consider, including micronutrient status, supplementation, and exercise, all of which play huge roles in the health of your mitochondria. Rather than hire Homer Simpson, Lenny, and Carl to run the plant, you basically want a bunch of Frank Grimes.

So, without further ado, let’s dig in to the nutrient and supplement side of things.


Ah, magnesium, darling mineral of the Primal world, participant in nearly every physiological function known to man, and now essential cofactor for proper mitochondrial function? Yes, I believe so. Magnesium deficiency led to decreased mitochondria-per-cell count and increased size of individual mitochondrions in liver and kidney cells, which indicates that not only did low magnesium drop the overall number of mitochondria, but also increased the workload of the remaining mitochondria. Eat plenty of leafy greens, the occasional handful of nuts or seeds, and a starchy tuber when it suits you, taking care to supplement with a good magnesium -ate if you need it, and you should be fine on magnesium.

Zinc and Iron

Deficiencies in both zinc and iron can reduce the mitochondria’s ability to synthesize heme, which leads to oxidant leakage (the increased free radicals that I mentioned in last week’s post), “DNA damage, neural decay, and aging.” Luckily, zinc and iron are present in animal products and shellfish, so few Primal eaters run the risk of severe deficiencies. If you need to, supplement, but do so wisely: zinc toxicity alters mitochondrial metabolism and lowers ATP production in liver mitochondria. The liver processes both fats and sugars and healthy liver mitochondria are crucial for that important task.


You don’t hear a lot about manganese, but it plays a role in creating a potent mitochondrial antioxidant: manganese superoxide dismutase. Without adequate manganese, you won’t make enough superoxide dismutase, and without enough mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase, you run the risk of developing a neuropathology or suffering an ischemic brain injury (what often happens after stroke). Eat your mussels, raspberries, and dark chocolate.


In rats with a genetic predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s disease, supplementing with carnosine reduced the prevalence of classic AD hallmarks, the first and foremost of which was mitochondrial dysfunction. Carnosine is a potent scavenger of free radicals, and it’s a dipeptide of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. Meat eaters get plenty of carnosine, but supplements exist if you want to go that route.


Carnitine is biosynthesized from methionine and lysine, two amino acids which are highly prevalent in red meat, and your mitochondria like a lot of carnitine because it’s required for shuttling fatty acids into the mitochondria for processing. Yeah, if you want mitochondria to do one of their most basic jobs – break down fatty acids for energy – you better consume ample amounts of meat, or supplement with L-carnitine.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A deficiency caused oxidative damage to liver mitochondria in rats. Folks, in addition to handling fat and sugar metabolism, liver mitochondria also process ammonia, a potentially toxic byproduct of protein metabolism, so you’d better eat your egg yolks and liver and even cod liver oil along with your egg whites and steak and cod filets.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a universal antioxidant, internally produced by most organisms (except for us and a couple others), and it should come as no surprise to learn that it (along with resveratrol and alpha-lipoic acid) reduces excessive reactive oxygen species production by the mitochondria. It does so by increasing manganese superoxide dismutase (remember that?). Just be careful about supplementing during heavy cardio, as vitamin C has been shown to dampen mitochondrial biogenesis by interfering with normal cellular adaptations to endurance exercise. Maybe that was the problem back in my endurance days when I was downing 25,000 milligrams of C a day during training (hey, Linus Pauling said to supplement vitamin C “to bowel tolerance.” How times have changed.) I doubt sticking to natural sources of vitamin C, like fruit, raw meat, or fresh vegetables would have the same negative effect on exercise adaptation.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Our bodies make CoQ10, which is required for the transfer of electrons during mitochondrial oxidative respiration. Mitochondrial oxidative respiration is how we produce ATP for bodily functions and day-to-day life. Without enough of it (maybe we’re taking statins, which block the pathway responsible for synthesizing CoQ10, or we’re not eating enough foods high in CoQ10), our mitochondria’s ability to make ATP suffers, since CoQ10 is the only compound that can do its job. The best dietary sources of CoQ10 include animal hearts (since hearts need a lot of CoQ10 to generate the energy required to function), sardines, and virgin red palm oil. Even so, it’s still tough to get significant CoQ10 from food, which is why I like to supplement it.

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

PQQ is a bacterial biofactor present in soil, on plants, and in animals. It stimulates plant and bacterial growth, and when animals eat the plants (or soil) that contains the bacteria, they also get the PQQ. Biofactors extremely similar to PQQ have even been detected in interstellar dust, suggesting that it has been an important component of the global ecosystem for billions of years. As is the wont of other bioactive compounds with similarly expansive legacies and ubiquitousness (sunlight/vitamin D comes to mind, as do essential minerals), PQQ appears to interact with a number of physiological processes, including both mitochondrial function and biogenesis. It improves mitochondrial respiratory control and stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis. One could probably write an entire article on this stuff’s interactions with the mitochondria, and I won’t, but I will direct interested parties to a comprehensive paper on the subject (PDF). Most folks focus on supplementing with PQQ, which can be a bit expensive, but another option is to eat natto (fermented soybeans, a legume, but a highly nutritious form that contains vitamin K2 in addition to PQQ) and drink green tea, both of which are high in PQQ.


Resveratrol is the darling of the life extension set, and while I think some of its effects might be overstated, it does appear to improve mitochondrial function (in mice) and induce mitochondrial biogenesis (in rodent epithelial cells, the cells that comprise the lining of blood vessels). Furry little humans mice are not, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Alpha-lipoic acid

Naturally occurring most richly in heart, liver, kidney, spinach, and broccoli, lipoic acid supplements have been shown to reduce mitochondrial decay in humans. Another study, albeit in rats, found that alpha-lipoic acid, along with a few other “mitochondria supportive” supplements, improved rats’ athletic performance and recovery. In both cases, it stimulated mitochondrial biogenesis.

I’m sure there are more nutrients, minerals, vitamins and supplements that affect mitochondrial function, but this is a decent list to consider when trying to man your cellular power plant workforce. And I bet if you take care of the bulk of these, either by eating good food or supplementing, you can keep a couple Homer Simpsons around for comic relief without too many problems.

For the next installment (sometime next week) in Managing Mitochondria, I’ll be covering exercise. Til then, take care and Grok on!

TAGS:  smart fuel

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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71 thoughts on “Managing Your Mitochondria: Nutrients and Supplements”

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  1. Very timely, I’ve just been researching Magnesium and have just started supplementing. Interested to see what changes, if any, I notice. Having tracked my micronutrients over the last few weeks, I don’t think I regularly get enough, so supplementing with a high quality supplement seems like a good idea.

    1. Magnesium lotion is also a good option. It by-passes the GI tract and is absorbed directly through your skin.

      1. Yes, I’ve used magnesium oil topically It’s a great muscle relaxant, and as you said, it bypasses the GI tract, so it’s the best way to correct a magnesium deficiency. The deficiency is also corrected alot faster when applied topically then it is when taken orally.

    2. Magnesium is the most commonly deficient, I’ve been supplementing since the beginning of the year. It is particularly useful in mood disorder and sleep, in fact larger doses can be sedative if taken near bedtime. It can also disrupt digestion though!

      From my research earlier in the year I found it was involved in at least 300 biochemical actions within the body – Emily does a good blog about it at evolutionarypschiatry.blogspot … com she’s a big fan from a brain health point of view.

    3. Has any one ever heard about the statement by DR. Peat on regards to the consumption of egetables, nuts and grains? ?’Unsaturated fats damage the mitochondria, partly by suppressing the respiratory enzyme, and partly by causing generalized oxidative damage. The more unsaturated the oils are, the more specifically they suppress tissue response to thyroid hormone, and transport of the hormone on the thyroid transport protein.” -Ray Peat, PhD

  2. Alpha-lipoic acid is certainly a supplement worth considering. I have seen good evidence of its efficacy in lowering blood sugar.

    But I prefer to get my resveratrol from red wine… 🙂

  3. Nice list Mark. May I add a few things:

    1. The ideal way to supplement with magnesium would be to include different chelated forms (e.g. citrate, orotate, glycinate etc.), since each form has affinity for different tissues.

    2. Acetyl-L-carnitine is a better form than pure L-carnitine.

    3. R form of Alpha Lipoic Acid is the best. Look for Na-R-ALA.

  4. This is awesome, but my first question is, what is the difference in value of getting these from foods and taking supplements for ALL of them?

    I of course would rather get the ones from food that I can and only supplement the difficult ones (I already take a CoQ10), but I know that so many people are conditioned to looking for the quick fix. If they read this, the takeaway they might have is to get all of these in one uber Mitochondria Health Pill rather than adjusting their diet.

  5. So many of these nutrients are found in MEAT… so ridiculous that conventional wisdom is always telling us to eat less of it.

    1. Not ridiculous from a marketing perspective. “Eat less meat, more veggies, and take this, and this, and this supplement, that we happen to sell!”

  6. CW is so ridiculous now that we “know better”…alas, so many years wasted not eating MEAT!
    as an aside, just to show even kids know more than we credit them:
    my 10 year old and I were playing with paper dolls, and she looked at one and said “this girl needs a couple burgers!”


    1. So do you make your own Pemmican? Do you have a recipe you prefer?

      1. Never mind, turns out there is a recipe on this site. Would like to see lots more fiber in it tho.

  8. Good old Frank Grimes. Too bad he went crazy and offed himself by accident. Hopefully our mitochondria don’t do the same. Great food info, as always. Thanks for the post Mark.

  9. what is a good brand of CoQ10 to take? And how many milligrams do you take a day?

  10. Andrea, Jarrow Formulas makes a good CoQ10. I’m not sure how much you personally need so I won’t comment.

  11. What a fantastic article on the role of meat in “meating” our nutritional needs. You can bet I will be sharing this with my meat-phobic clients. Just getting them to eat grass-fed meat on a regular basis would be great, but I’m also working on leading the brave towards beef heart and liver on a weekly basis.

      1. G’day Bu Ang,Thanks for the question.I would see your dooctr.The sensation of heartburn is caused by exposure of the lower esophagus to the acidic contents of the stomach. Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) separating the stomach from the esophagus is supposed to contract to prevent this situation. If the sphincter relaxes for any reason (as normally occurs during swallowing), stomach contents, mixed with gastric acid, can return into the esophagus. This return is also known as reflux, and may progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it occurs frequently. Peristalsis, the rhythmic wave of muscular contraction in the esophagus, normally moves food down and past the LES and is responsible for ultimately clearing refluxed stomach contents. In addition, gastric acid can be neutralized by buffers present in saliva.Foods that may cause problems with heartburn include: * Alcohol * Coffee, tea, cola, and other caffeinated and carbonated beverages * Chocolate * Citrus fruits and juices * Tomatoes and tomato sauces (such as pizza and pasta sauce) * Spicy foods and fatty foods (including full-fat dairy products) * Peppermint and spearmint * Dry foods such as peanuts * Fatty foods such as ice creamStress can also be a factor.Physicians typically diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) based on symptoms alone. When the clinical presentation is unclear, other tests can be performed to confirm the diagnosis or exclude other disorders.If heartburn occurs when lying down, raising the head with pillows or sitting up frequently provides relief – although care must be taken to avoid placing continuous strain on the neck. Avoidance of certain foods shortly before bedtime is frequently advised to avoid future attacks.Antacids, H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors are used in that order to treat heartburn.I would speak to your dooctr and he can make further inquiries.I have enclosed some references for your benefit.Regards

  12. This article came at a gret time for me. I bought beef liver at WF last night… going to make it for the first time tonight. Maybe it’ll taste better knowing about all of the important nutrients it provides? I can hope, right?

    1. It seems like no matter how I prepare it, it always tastes like liver. Which is too bad, because it’s so affordable and good for you.

      1. try sauteing onions and grinding the liver with hard-boiled eggs, the onions, and salt+ pepper. good old fashioned chopped liver, tasty and not too “liver-ish”.

      2. One word: Braunschweiger!

        Bacon Strips (Speck, Pork Side), Braunschweiger fried (or just gently warmed up) in bacon grease and a couple eggs for breakfast!!!

        THE absolute best old fashioned breakfast you can ever have.

        1. ::Drool:: I LOVE Braunschweiger! In bacon grease? MDA is like some kinda heaven…

  13. I’m printing this one out, it’s a keeper! I had a personal trainer who told me the reason why I wasn’t gaining endurance was because I had mitochondrial insufficiency (sounds scary, doesn’t it?), because I didn’t exercise much as a fat, book-wormy type of child, and so never built up enough of them! So along with the exercising, I’ll add some supplements! 🙂

    1. Connie, I am responding to your response from 6 years ago. Don’t know if you will find this or not!! I thought it was interesting that your personal trainer told you the reason why you weren’t gaining endurance was because you had mitochondrial insufficiency. That’s a smart trainer!! I have been studying mitochondria and have found that building up mitochondria through supplementation has been amazing for me and my family and others I have talked with about this subject. The word I hear most often is STAMINA. Who doesn’t need more stamina??? It’s true that we all lose mitochondria as we age. I would love the opportunity to discuss this further with you and share the knowledge I have received just over the past few months.

  14. My favorite way to supplement magnesium — a nice bath with bath salts — half epsom salts and half sea salt, plus a few drops a whatever essential oil sounds good at the moment. MMMMM. Heaven.

  15. I eat a diet rich in mitochondria. so my mitochondria are mitocannibals.

  16. I wonder if tempeh would have a similar amount of PQQ as natto. I’ve been eating quite a bit of tempeh lately.

  17. i wonder if PQQ is present in other fermented foods? fermented(moldy?) soybeans dont sound appealing. I DO like green tea – yay!

  18. Some great new info here for me and a few timely reminders also. Thanks for sharing. Mark, is there any chance you can get one of those facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ icons at the bottom of your articles? I know it’d make it easier for people to share your articles on their relevant social networking page and spread the word. Thanks again mate 🙂

  19. Here is a fun one that few seem to be discussing:
    Methylene blue delays cellular senescence and enhances
    key mitochondrial biochemical pathways — Yes, this is the same cheap Methylene blue that is used to detect and stain starches in high school science labs. It improves mitochondrial function by enhancing oxygen transport, and might be a good defense against Alzheimer’s caused by mitochondrial dysfunction.

  20. Aren’t coffee and chocolate rich in magnesium? Can’t imagine not getting enough!

  21. I live in Epsom, England and live a few yards away from the very first Well where they discovered Epsom Salts! How bizarre I should read about taking a bath with them to get my Magnesium supp, lol! No wonder they were marketed with such “healing properties” – I’d always known of this but before taking a proper interest in my health, it hadn’t really sunk in!

    Just wondering if it would b possible to grind down some liver and mix in with minced beef to make burgers? Do u think you’d still taste the liver – although my dislike of liver has always been more to do with the texture….or maybe a homemade pate recipe?

    H x

    1. I regularly add a bit or liver to burgers or meatloaf. Basically it goes in to any ground beef dish, and no, you don’t taste it. I put about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup in to each 1 pound of ground beef. My boyfriend hates liver, and never even knows he is eating it.

    2. Helen, if you mix ground liver with beef at no more than 1:3 you should be fine. Just remember that it’s wetter then mince, so adjust your recipes accordingly. Check Cheeseslave for good offal recipes, or the oldest cookbooks you can find (a free Kindle edition of Classic Cook Books by James Wadsworth (“12 books on cooking before 1800”) is a likely candidate).

  22. Perfect timing on this one, Mark! I just posted in the forums yesterday on what supplements I do/don’t need, and what are the best sources of them. Good thing I’ve heard so much about magnesium; I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, and it’s probably because of a magnesium deficiency! I now have plans to pick up some Natural Calm after work today, and maybe some Epsom salts over the weekend so I can get my bath on =)

    1. Oh, just for clarification: my forum post from yesterday was asking for suggestions as to which supplements I do/ don’t need and which ones my fellow Grokkers suggest most… sorry for any confusion =P

  23. What about Epsom salt baths? I read that you can make your own ultra-cheap magnesium lotion by adding Epsom salt to a neutral lotion or carrier, and that simply soaking in an Epsom salt bath 2-3x per week corrects blood levels of magnesium. Is there a reason to buy the uber-expensive health-food-store spray version over the pennies per pound grocery store version?

    1. I love taking epsom salt baths but didn’t realize I was getting this much of a benefit from them. I thought I was just so smart for saving money over the fancy scented “bath salts” available. I’ve never heard of the lotion before, and I suppose if I didn’t have a bathtub that might be a good option. I wonder if we would have to dilute the salts in some warm water before mixing with oil or lotion? I’ve tried taking magnesium aspartate, tri-salts and buffered vitamin C and almost always get diarrhea from it so a method that bypasses the GI tract is pretty appealing.

      1. I don’t know, but I’m going to try it today–I’ll let you know how it works out ;0).
        I loooooooooove a nice bath, especially during the winter, but when it’s hot outside I might not soak in the tub for a few months. If the lotion/spray solution works that’ll be a nice way to keep mg levels up during the summer months, or when traveling or whatever.

        I guess my only real question is whether there’s any nutriative difference between epsom salt magnesium and dietary magnesium.

      2. Well, I dumped a couple tablespoons into a bottle of all-natural lotion last night and gave it a good shake. It seems to have dissolved in just fine–at least I can’t feel any crystals–and I’m not feeling any weird “stinging” or anything that some folks complained about with the sprays.
        Of course, I have no idea whatsoever if this is working to get it into my bloodstream, but it seems to have mixed into the lotion okay!

  24. LOL! That’s sound like a great excuse to use on my husband next time I raid his candy drawer: “But honey, I just HAD to eat your last dark chocolate because my mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase stores were low. You wouldn’t want your wife to suffer a ischemic brain injury, would you???”
    I’m sure that will work every time.:)

  25. Careful with ALA! If you’re mercury toxic, and a whole lot of people are, it will mobilize that and other heavy metals across the blood-brain barrier. If you do it right you can use ALA to chelate mercury (most people should start with DMSA to clear mercury outside of the brain first) but if you do it wrong you can really hurt yourself. Look up Andrew Cutler’s work on the subject. There’s a lot of bad info out there but Cutler is one of the good guys. If you have or have ever had dental amalgams (50% mercury by weight, which the ADA swears is perfectly safe) you should assume that you’re mercury toxic until proven otherwise but that’s not the only way to get poisoned.

  26. Thanks for the advice, I shall get some liver to grind down into burgers and the like 🙂

    Now I just need to work out how to get off the metal grill that now covers over the Well up the road from me, which was where first Epsom Salts were found – free supply maybe 😉

    Am kinda new to all this but am so enjoying the “learning about me” aspect of this journey!

    H x

  27. I was eating macadamia nuts while reading this. The jar says a one ounce serving has 60% daily value of manganese. Best nuts around!

  28. Most CoQ10 supplements are ubiquinone. Look for the ubiquinol form which is up to 8x more potent. Puritan’s Pride has one. And dump the statins, they’re very harmful & have no benefits.

  29. Hi,

    My husband wants take pre workout supplements. We eat primal; however he argues that he is getting older and needs energy to workout & lift.
    He has tried everything from Jack3D, Craze, GNC supplements. He has had side effects, like upset stomach, jitter (extreme caffeine content)..severe headaches..My conclusion is that non of these supplements work..
    Mark, could you recommend something he can take prior to his workouts?

  30. I want to thank you all for your comments and shares. I have been battling a rare type of cancer for about 5 years and I have just learned about mitochondria from doing research online. You would think that a dr. would explain or tell you about it especially since tumors are a big part of cellular deterioration or the lack of.
    so I am taking it in my own hands to work on a diet that will help me heal faster and my body work better.

  31. Thank you! Unfortunately I am allergic to red meat – beef, lamb and pork. So, whilst I always thought that it was better for me anyway, it appears i may need to supplement my diet with L-Carnatine and Q10…

  32. I have Fibromyalgia. I have some of it under control. My biggest issue right now is my fatigue/energy levels. I will do things during the day, but by the afternoon, I have no desire to do anything. I really need to find out what will help!! I do and have taken a high amount of Magnesium. I’m wondering if a mitochondria supplement would work?

    1. Mary, My name is also Mary!! I have recently started working with an amazing company that has produced a mitochondria supplement with PQQ and COEnzymeQ10. Plus Magnesium, Zinc and several more nutrients. It would be worth a look and a try to see if it could help. Please reply back and we can get in touch! What my customers are telling me is that they have much more STAMINA after using this for just 30 days. No guarantees, but I really believe it is worth the investment to try. I will provide any info you are looking for to make an educated decision, Mary.

  33. What is the best over the counter supplement to buy to support and rebuild your mitochondria. Thanks very much