Links Between Mitochondrial Health and the Immune System
Struggling with chronic fatigue? Getting sick often? It could be your mitochondria asking you for more support. This tiny organelle within each one of our cells plays a huge role in how we feel day to day.
Mitochondria are present in every cell of the body. Lifestyle measures such as diet, exercise, exposure to toxins, sleep quality and stress levels all dictate mitochondrial health and can either inhibit or promote our body’s ability to protect itself from the surrounding environment. The startling reality is that choices we make everyday can impact us on a cellular level.
What Do Our Mitochondria Do?
Our mitochondria are responsible for most of the cells energy production, which can then be used for immune activation, protein and lipid synthesis, and a wide range of metabolic functions (1). Mitochondrial health is important when looking at autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and cancer, as it is also a hub for cellular signaling (2). Damage to the mitochondria can promote inefficient cell function and harbor signals for inflammation, often manifesting as chronic fatigue, recurring infections, and an impaired immune system (2).
Mitochondria and the Immune System
An important feature of the mitochondria is its ability to regulate the survival of our immune cells (2). The immune system can drain cellular energy when trying to meet environmental demands, which can leave you feeling fatigued and susceptible to illness (1). Signaling pathways within the immune system also rely on healthy mitochondria to alter their morphology (1). Supporting mitochondrial health is an integral part of treating chronic immune dysfunction due to the mitochondria’s ability to both activate and suppress cell signals within the immune system, allowing immune cells to respond to pathogenic organisms, and delay the onset of immunosenescence or aging of the immune system (1).
Diet/Lifestyle Factors
Lifestyle factors that promote healthy mitochondria are also ways to create a strong and resilient immune system. This includes moderate exercise, preventing macro and micronutrient deficiencies, a high antioxidant intake, reducing stress, and limiting your exposure to mold and other environmental toxins (1).
Exercise serves as an effective non-pharmacologic tool to improve human health and enhance mitochondrial function and quality by stimulating cell turnover (3).
Moderate physical activity benefits the inflammatory pathways and helps promote the recycling of cellular debris caused by oxidative stress (1).
Following an anti-inflammatory diet is another effective way to promote mitochondrial health (2). A variety of cruciferous veggies, berries, oily fish, olive oil, nuts and grass fed beef/chicken are foods that support our mitochondria and delay immunosenescence (2). In addition, a diet rich in antioxidants also helps neutralize mitochondrial damage. Natural antioxidants such as vitamin E (found in avocados, spinach, sunflower seeds and almonds) can be used as targeted therapy to promote mitochondrial health by reducing oxidative stress in our cells (2). Other foods rich in antioxidants include berries, leafy greens, oily fish, and green tea.
Adopting daily habits that promote movement, increase antioxidant intake and prevent micronutrient deficiencies will all lead to a stronger immune system during those long winter months. Join the providers of Natural Medicine of Denver for a workshop on immunology and learn how to better support your immune system through live demos and discussion!

1. Guilliams, T.J. Supporting immune function, a lifestyle and nutrient approach. The Standard Roadmap Series. 2022; second edition: pg 36-37.
2. Diverse roles of mitochondria in immune responses: novel insights into immune-metabolism. Front Immunol. 2018; 9: 1605.
3. Sorriento, D. Di Vaia, E. Laccarino, G. Physical exercise: a novel tool to protect mitochondrial health. Front. Physiol., 27 April 2021. Sec. Mitochondrial Research. Volume 12-2021.