Chronic Fatigue Conditions Cause Mitochondrial Disease

Diagram of Mitochondrial Disease

The term “mitochondrial disease” refers to a group of related disorders that affect the mitochondria in our cells. Mitochondrial disease causes widespread symptoms in the body, including chronic fatigue, and has very few known treatments. According to the University of California, San Diego (2001), 4,000 children are born each year with mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondrial disease has also been linked to many diseases, including dementia, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Researchers are unsure of the link between mitochondrial disease and these related conditions.

What Are Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are tiny organelles within human cells that assist the body with the process of converting food into energy. Without properly functioning mitochondria, the body is unable to convert food energy into a form that is usable by its cells.

Different types of cells have varying numbers of mitochondria, ranging from one single mitochondrion to thousands of mitochondria. Each cell helps with the process of aerobic respiration, ensuring that the body can convert food into enzymes.

If these organelles become diseased, they no longer work properly. This can lead to incomplete chemical reactions, waste buildup in the cells, and eventually, organ or system failure.

Mitochondrial Disease Symptoms

Malformations in the mitochondria can be passed on genetically from one generation to another, and may cause mild symptoms such as fatigue or more severe symptoms such as organ failure. Since mitochondria exist in all human cells, the disease can have a widespread effect on the body and cause severe symptoms, including:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Muscle weakness
  • Organ disease or failure
  • Severe, chronic fatigue.

As the mitochondria “shut down,” the cells–and eventually the body’s systems powered by these cells–may also shut down.

Causes of Mitochondrial Disease

Mitochondrial disease is caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA. These mutations can either be inherited genetically or caused by damage to the mitochondria that may then be passed on through the maternal line. Environmental toxins, drug use or chemical exposure can cause this damage on a cellular level.

Current Treatment for Mitochondrial Disease

Few treatments for mitochondrial disease currently exist. Vitamins and other alternative remedies may be used to control the symptoms and make patients more comfortable, but as of now, there’s no known cure for mitochondrial disease.

Experts are currently researching several experimental procedures to treat mitochondrial disease. These include embryonic mitochondrial transplantation and spindle transfers, both of which replace affected cells with healthy ones. While these procedures haven’t yet proven effective in humans, they have shown promise in lab studies.

Resources

Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. (2010). Possible symptoms. Retrieved September 9, 2010, from http://www.umdf.org/site/c.otJVJ7MMIqE/b.5692883/k.C0C7/Possible_Symptoms.htm

University of California San Diego. (2010). The mitochondrial and metabolic disease center: Specializing in mitochondrial disease treatment and research. Retrieved September 9, 2010, from http://biochemgen.ucsd.edu/mmdc/brochure.htm

University of California San Diego. (2001). Physicians, researchers and families battle devastating mitochondrial disease. Retrieved September 14, 2010, from http://health.ucsd.edu/news/2001/02_26_Mito.html