Mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, are essential organelles in all cells relying on aerobic metabolism to maintain cellular energy levels necessary for all vital processes in the cell and human body. It has been known for decades that aging is associated with a decline in mitochondrial function of the skeletal muscle, and it is known that with aging muscle function also declines. Despite this fact, it is only recently that the therapeutic importance of mitochondria has become fully appreciated. Improving mitochondrial activity can not only potentially delay the general aging process, but more importantly also retard the onset of diseases linked with aging, such as loss of muscle mass and physical function. This not only has led to an intense interest to identify molecular pathways that govern mitochondrial number and function, but also spurred an intense search to identify new nutrients and drugs that can be used to improve mitochondrial function. Relevant to TI Food and Nutrition, mitochondria are very sensitive to nutritional signals, which is not surprising given the role of these organelles in nutrient handling. This opens the way to explore the potential of food components and specific nutrients to boost muscle mitochondrial function, especially in the elderly. As such, the project aims to find new nutritional means to improve muscle health and help in the prevention and improvement of age-related disturbances.
Healthy nutrition plays an important role in maintaining health, and can also help to prevent the onset of loss of physical function and health that is associated with aging. The project Mitochondrial Health within TIFN focused on evaluating novel food components on mitochondrial metabolism and its relation to muscle health, one of the main tissues affected by aging. It is expected that basic science in in vitro muscle cell models can reveal novel food components that affect mitochondrial metabolism, and can unravel the underlying mechanisms.
Using short-term human intervention studies, the translational aspect of the potential of such food components to boost mitochondrial function is tested in the elderly population, with a focus on those with compromised physical function. Cross-sectional studies were used to investigate the relationship between muscle mitochondrial function and muscle health in elderly, whereas we used large cohort studies to investigate the relationship between habitual food consumption and markers of muscle health and physical function. Finally, we aimed to develop tools and identify novel biomarkers of mitochondrial function that can be applied in observational and intervention studies.
It is anticipated that the project Mitochondrial Health will provide the industrial partners with novel methods and insights in the potential of food components and specific nutrients to prevent, delay or improve aging associated decline and disturbances in muscle health and physical function, by targeting mitochondrial function.
Due to the improved health care system in many countries, people are getting older and older. However, with advancing age, also comes a decline in physical function and an increased risk of chronic diseases. Healthy nutrition is recognized as an important pilar in the prevention of such age-related declines in physical function and health. In that context, mitochondria play a central role as these organelles are central in the combustion of our nutritients to yield energy. With aging, the function of mitochondria declines. Due to the pivotal role of mitochondria in nutrient combustion, their function is also under the biological regulation of nutritional sensors. More knowledge on this, and how food and diet could boost mitochondrial function can therefore have major impact on the function of mitochondria with age, and thereby help to prevent age-related decline in health.