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Promoting Mitochondrial Health Nutrients That Optimize Cellular Energy

February 2005

By Dale Kiefer

Rhodiola: A Natural Energy Booster

Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root or Arctic root, has garnered significant attention in recent years. Although still largely unfamiliar to Westerners, it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and has been studied extensively by Russian scientists, who have dubbed it an “adaptogen.” This term refers to this herb’s remarkable ability to increase resistance to numerous chemical, physical, and biological stressors, including strenuous exercise, mental strain, and toxic chemicals.67

Studies have shown that rhodiola enhances exercise endurance, reduces fatigue under stressful conditions, and exerts an anti-inflammatory effect.68-72 Richard Brown, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and author of The Rhodiola Revolution, recommends it as an energy booster and treatment for depression, chronic fatigue, and anxiety.73

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on human subjects, Russian researchers showed that rhodiola extract improves the capacity to perform mentally demanding tasks under conditions of excess stress and fatigue. “The study showed a pronounced anti-fatigue effect... [that] was statistically highly significant,” the research team concluded.70 A similar controlled trial conducted on students during a “stressful examination period” found that objective and subjective measures of physical and mental performance were significantly superior among subjects who took rhodiola extract compared to those of subjects who took placebo.72

In 2004, Belgian researchers published the results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of rhodiola’s effects on endurance exercise performance. They concluded, “Acute rhodiola intake can improve endurance exercise capacity in young healthy volunteers.” This effect was not altered by prior daily intake of rhodiola for four weeks.69 It is believed that rhodiola’s many beneficial properties stem from its ability to influence the activities and levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, as well as of natural “feel good” opioids such as beta-endorphins.67,74

Luteolin Enhances Immune Response

Luteolin is a natural plant flavonoid found in herbs and vegetables, including parsley, olive oil, rosemary, and celery. Among its numerous benefits are modulation of the immune response and neutralization of free radicals.9,75 It has been shown to inhibit immune system chemicals implicated in the development and propagation of allergic disease, including pro-inflammatory interleukin-4 and interleukin-13.75 Likewise, luteolin protects the body from the development of cancer by inhibiting the activation of nuclear transcription factor-kappa beta induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and by sensitizing tumor cells to apoptosis, or programmed cell death.76-78

Luteolin has even been suggested as a treatment for asthma. Indian researchers have shown that luteolin reduces some of the inflammatory processes responsible for the airway constriction associated with asthma.79 Even more interesting, Chinese researchers recently demonstrated that luteolin binds with the surface spike proteins on the deadly virus, blocking its entry into the host cell. In essence, say the researchers, luteolin may represent an effective means of developing new drugs for the prevention of viral infections such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).80

Wheat Sprout Enzymes: Antioxidant and Antimutagenic

Wheat sprout enzymes are another source of bioactive plant flavonoids. Their potential benefits may range from improving symptoms of fibromyalgia and joint pain to increasing energy and relieving symptoms of chronic fatigue

syndrome. These benefits are likely related to the presence of several potent natural antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase, and catalase.

Scientists have known for a number of years that inflammatory diseases are often associated with a decrease in some of these antioxidant enzymes. For example, Korean researchers recently demonstrated that the activity of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase is significantly lower among rheumatoid arthritis patients than among control subjects. Dietary intake of antioxidants was lower among the arthritis patients than among controls, researchers discovered.81

Their finding echoes conclusions reached by other researchers. Stanford University scientists, for instance, recently reported on the association between the presence of superoxide anion and the development of a wide range of degenerative diseases, including athero- sclerosis, stroke, heart attack, and chronic and acute inflammatory conditions.82 Pro-inflammatory superoxide anion is scavenged and neutralized by superoxide dismutase.

University of Pittsburgh scientists recently noted that overproduction of reactive oxygen species is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and lung pathologies, among other conditions. Superoxide dismutase that operates outside cells, in the extracellular matrix, “. . . is ideally situated to prevent cell and tissue damage initiated by extracellularly produced [reactive oxygen species],” according to the research team.83 More recently, a Texas neuroscience researcher noted that persistent, chronic pain associated with inflammation appears to be mediated by superoxide, and experiments have shown that neutralizing superoxide decreases pain.84

The relationship among superoxide, superoxide dismutase, and disease processes is so compelling that scientists attempted years ago to intervene in diseases such as osteoarthritis by injecting superoxide dismutase derived from livestock blood cells directly into diseased joints. While the relief from inflammation was often dramatic, the technique is somewhat impractical and has not been embraced as a treatment for human patients.85

Soy, corn, and wheat sprouts, on the other hand, may represent a more acceptable means of increasing one’s levels of natural antioxidant enzymes. Italian researchers recently published an analysis of the antioxidant content of wheat sprout extract, noting, “catalase and peroxidase activity appears very strong... ”86 They also reported, “it is evident that wheat sprout biologically active substances can be at least partially absorbed during the digestion process.”86 Another team of Italian scientists compared the antioxidant activity of wheat sprout extract to known pure antioxidants such as ascorbic acid, quercetin, and reduced glutathione. They concluded, “oxygen superoxide scavenging activity performed by wheat sprout extracts... is comparable to that shown by... pure compounds.”87

Research has likewise demonstrated that sprout enzymes also possess powerful antimutagenic properties (that is, they prevent mutations that may lead to the development of cancers).88,89 According to unpublished data compiled by researchers at the University of Hawaii, a survey of 120 subjects who ingested large amounts of plant-based antioxidant enzymes revealed that 88% reported increased energy, while 72% reported feeling stronger. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents reported feeling better over all after supplementing with sprout-derived antioxidants.90


Successful aging depends on maintaining a constant, abundant supply of cellular energy. To ensure a continuous supply of energy in the body, it is crucial to support the health of the mitochondria, the power plants of each cell. Nutrients such as lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine have been shown to improve mitochondrial function and boost diminished energy levels. A derivative of acetyl-L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine arginate, has demonstrated additional benefits in supporting brain health and fighting senescence.

Other nutritional and plant-based remedies offer complementary support in the fight against age-related degeneration. Carnosine helps to prevent glycation reactions that are associated with the dysfunction of proteins and enzymes, and can lead to wrinkles, vision changes, and kidney disease. Benfotiamine, a powerful cousin of vitamin B1, helps promote healthy blood glucose levels, a critically important aspect of optimal aging. Plants such as rhodiola, and plant extracts such as luteolin and wheat sprout enzymes, help improve the body’s resistance to stressors, relieving fatigue and promoting well being.

Together, these nutrients and plant remedies offer great protection from the wear and tear of time and stress, while supplying the age-defying energy needed for optimal health.


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