PUMPING IRONY: Mom and Your Mitochondria

Aging more quickly than you would prefer? Blame your mother.

Here’s another thing for mothers to feel guilty about:

A new study suggests that the genes we inherit from mom play a major role in how quickly we age.

Researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging found for the first time that mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) passed down from mothers to their offspring can lead to accelerated aging. Our mitochondria — the power plants in our cells — are a primary source of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), one of the body’s vital energy sources. Keeping this little machine functioning properly is key to our longevity.

There are plenty of ways to mess up your mitochondria: poor diet, chronic inflammation, hormonal issues. But this study suggests that even if you’re taking care of business in all these areas, you could be getting older in a hurry if your mom left you with ill-fitting genes.

This hardly seems fair, if you ask me. My own dear mother, who left this mortal plane back in 2004 at the age of 82, was a real saint. Fed and clothed me, patiently guided me through various adolescent idiocies, and never asked me to explain myself. I’m not going to blame her if my mitochondria happen to be less than sterling.

Actually, you’re not really sentenced to an early departure even if your mom let you down in the mitochondria department, according to the study’s coauthor, Barry Hoffer, MD, PhD, a visiting professor at the Karolinska Institute. “These findings also suggest that therapeutic interventions that target mitochondrial function may influence the time course of aging,” Hoffer said in a statement released by the institute. “There are various dietary manipulations and drugs that can up-regulate mitochondrial function and/or reduce mitochondrial toxicity.”

Of course, bio-technicians lean toward things like injecting “backup copies” of mitochondria DNA into your cells — which I don’t think my mother would allow. I’m more inclined toward less technological approaches, like doing stuff that stresses the mitochondria to make it stronger — specifically, lifting heavy things on a regular basis while raising my heart rate and avoiding simple carbohydrates in favor of healthy fats.

This will not only make you feel better, but it will let poor mom off the hook.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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