Mitochondria and Immunity

Posted on May 15, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Your immune system is in a constant state of surveillance and fighting germs. From the germs on the door handle, on the TV remote or cell phone, and the passerby who sneezed on you, there is an ongoing challenge. Some Genetic Eve’s manage to ward off germs, whereas other Haplogroups become ill. How well we nourish our body on a daily basis makes a huge difference for the energetic demands and actions of the immune system. Immune system energetics relies on a number of things - including the ATP producers, or mitochondria, of cells. Mitochondria are now known to perform multiple duties for the immune system and are considered to be at the forefront of defense. Cross talk with the body’s microbiome also links immune function, mitochondria, haplogroups and health. If our mitochondria are healthy and fortified, then our immune defense system is able to engage. However, if you are prone to frequent infections, struggle with energy production, are cold intolerant, or are aging faster than you should, then consider working on supporting your mitochondria. Certain Haplogroups have been shown to have increased susceptibility to particular Viruses and Bacteria. Population studies prove this relationship.

Genetic Eve can help assist you in understanding your Haplogroup and it’s associated risks and providing ideas on protection. Your Family Tree reveals information about your ancestor’s DNA, In particular, your maternal genetics gathered through genetic testing provides valuable information about your mitochondria.

For the Scientist: Mitochondria are among the first lines of defense affecting both innate and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity refers to general or non-specific defense mechanisms that occur immediately or within a few hours after a pathogen appears in the body. An immune response can be induced by antigens, which are proteins found on the surfaces of pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, and parasites. The innate immune system works to fight off pathogens before they become a bigger problem, i.e. infection. Innate immune cells include white blood cells, natural killer cells, and macrophages.

Adaptive immunity occurs slowly over the course of days and involves T cells, B cells and other antigen-presenting cells. This is the part of the immune system that learns, recognizes, and remembers past exposure to antigens. It creates immunological memory. Mitochondrial signals are required for T cell activation and the formation of immune memory. Mitochondrial innate and adaptive immune activities involve Krebs cycle intermediates, such as succinate, fumarate, and citrate, which promote cellular energy production.

Mitochondria orchestrate responses to antigens within cells via the innate immune system. This promotes antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activities, which activate additional immune cells, such as macrophages and natural killer cells. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that phagocytose cellular debris, as well as foreign and cancer cells.

Pathogens can cause damage to the mitochondrial membranes and internal mitochondrial structure, leading to loss of mitochondrial function and increased reactive oxygen species (ROS), resulting in oxidative stress. During acute infection, mitochondria are gravely injured and undergo apoptosis, or cell death, leading to compromised cellular respiration. This is one of the reasons for the crushing fatigue during infection or even the low-grade malaise that lingers afterwards. Removal of damaged mitochondria promotes recovery, and the body is able to make new mitochondria to replace them.

In some circumstances, viruses may infect mitochondria and cause chronic infection, which may increase the risk of viral-related cancers and aberrant gene regulation. Viruses that can affect mitochondrial function include Rous sarcoma virus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1). The flu virus influenza A also induces mitochondrial damage.

Recurrent bacteria and fungal infections are more commonly seen in individuals with serious mitochondrial impairment. Repeated infections with Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans, Clostridium difficile, Enterococcus, E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and respiratory syncytial virus may occur. Patients with mitochondrial impairment may also exhibit hypogammaglobulinemia, low IgA, low vaccine titers, and decreased memory B cells and T cells.

Daily repair processes occur in the body in which mitochondria are destroyed and replaced. However, oxidative stress and cumulative wear and tear challenge these powerhouses of energy production, immune signaling, and cellular energetics, which increases the risk of infection, autoimmune disorders, and accelerated aging or inflammation.

Many things injure mitochondria in daily life, thereby compromising immune function and energy production. Mitochondria are affected by toxins from the environment, medications, and occupational exposure. Cigarette smoke, air pollution, and pesticides such as 2,4-D, dinoseb, and glyphosate/Roundup are toxic to mitochondria. Mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium are also detrimental to mitochondria.

Further, numerous medications like tetracycline, ibuprofen, aspirin, metformin, valproic acid and others have adverse effects on mitochondria. Too much exercise and lack of physical activity result in mitochondrial impairment, while moderate exercise actually rejuvenates mitochondria.

Reduction in caloric intake or the consumption of smaller, balanced meals (with 4-6 hours between meals), as well as longer periods of fasting between dinner and breakfast, are helpful to mitochondria. High-calorie diets, grazing, and the consumption of large meals do not support mitochondrial health.

Patients diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease often experience an increased number of infections that are more frequent and/or severe. In some cases, these patients have immune problems that contribute to their infection susceptibility. Patients with mitochondrial diseases can have issues related to the decreased production and function of the body’s white blood cells and antibodies that need to be generated to fight infection.

There are some treatments available that support immune-compromised patients when fighting infections, such as antibody infusions. It is also recommended that patients with mitochondrial disease receive immunizations, including the annual influenza vaccine, to prevent the otherwise very severe or even life-threatening problems that may result from vaccine-preventable diseases.

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