The mitochondria (mite-oh-con-dree-a) are the ‘powerhouses of the cell’ and their main role is creating Adenosine triphosphate (better known as ATP), an organic compound that provides energy to assist many of the body’s processes.1 The mitochondria also play a role in mediating cell multiplication, differentiation, and the death of cells… So many important jobs for something that is so tiny!1
But what does this have to do with your ability to make babies?
A lot, as it turns out!
Baby-Making is Hard Work!
The processes involved in ‘making a baby’ demand a high level of energy, or ATP. Our mitochondria, being the ATP creators, therefore play a huge role in the success of this fertilisation and embryo development business, and insufficient ATP has been linked to abnormal embryo development and an inability to fall pregnant.1
We know that as women age, the quality of their eggs declines. One of the reasons for this is that the mitochondrial DNA within the ageing egg produces less ATP, which can contribute to infertility and abnormal embryo development.1 Also, with lower levels of mitochondria in the egg cells, the proportion of mutant mitochondrial DNA may be increased, not allowing the embryo to develop properly.1
It’s not just women who require healthy mitochondria to reproduce! Whilst it’s not something we spend much time thinking about, the act of creating sperm requires a fair amount of energy, by way of ATP production from the mitochondria. The mitochondria also regulates many other male reproductive processes, including testosterone production in the testis as well as various other sperm-related processes.1 This means that if the male has malfunctioning mitochondria, it could also be a possible explanation for why some people have unwanted delays in conception.
Supporting Your Mitochondria
Many external factors have an impact on your mitochondrial function. Whilst some of these factors are outside of your control, there is evidence that diet and lifestyle can significantly affect the ability of your mitochondria to produce ATP. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) are two of the vital components in mitochondrial.
NAD+ communicates with the mitochondria and the cytoplasm (the fluid inside the cell) in order to help the mitochondria function in the best possible way and promote appropriate development of the growing foetus.3 CoQ10 plays a role in safeguarding the inner layer of the mitochondria, and acts as an antioxidant, helping to reduce damage from oxidative stress.3
Where to Next?
Whilst interventions targeting mitochondrial function for fertility are still in relatively early days, the signs so far are very promising, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the rapid developments in this field! In the meantime, studies have shown that making sure your NAD+ and/or CoQ10 levels are adequate, via supplementation or dietary inclusion, can help to support these little pocket rocket powerhouses, your mitochondria.
1. Podolak, Amira, Izabela Woclawek-Potocka, and Krzysztof Lukaszuk. "The Role of Mitochondria in Human Fertility and Early Embryo Development: What Can We Learn for Clinical Application of Assessing and Improving Mitochondrial DNA?." Cells 11, no. 5 (2022): 797.
2. Castro-Marrero, Jesús, Maria Jose Segundo, Marcos Lacasa, Alba Martinez-Martinez, Ramon Sanmartin Sentañes, and Jose Alegre-Martin. "Effect of dietary coenzyme Q10 plus NADH supplementation on fatigue perception and health-related quality of life in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial." Nutrients 13, no. 8 (2021): 2658.
3. Rodríguez-Cano, Ameyalli M., Claudia C. Calzada-Mendoza, Guadalupe Estrada-Gutierrez, Jonatan A. Mendoza-Ortega, and Otilia Perichart-Perera. "Nutrients, mitochondrial function, and perinatal health." Nutrients 12, no. 7 (2020): 2166.