We’re talking about how to increase your energy levels. This was my biggest struggle when I was an OBGYN. Being on call delivering babies all night doing surgeries all day and seeing patients. I was so sleep-deprived and that was one of the biggest reasons I was tired. But once I started sleeping, I still had issues, especially in the afternoons. I still wanted to sleep after lunch. It was like eating made me tired. What was really going on was that I had major mitochondrial dysfunction. My guests today is all about mitochondrial dysfunction.
He is the foremost expert on mitochondrial health energy production. He wrote the book “The Energy Blueprint.” Now, he’s coming out with a new book “Eat for Energy, how to beat fatigue supercharge your mitochondria and unlock all-day energy.” This is not just a female issue, This is a human being issue and it’s affecting all of us as my guest is going to explain today.
About Ari Whitten
Ari Whitten is the founder of The Energy Blueprint. He’s an energy and fatigue specialist who focuses on taking an evidence-based approach to energy enhancement, nutrition, exercise, and natural health. Not only that, but he’s a number one best-selling author and has been studying nutrition and holistic health for more than two decades. He has a Bachelor of Science from San Diego State in Kinesiology and holds two advanced certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist. In addition, he recently completed the three years of coursework for his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Education that rounds out all aspects of nutrition, fitness, and psychology. This is how he approaches optimal health.
Ari is a tireless researcher, as you will see, who’s obsessively devoted his last 20 years of life to the pursuit of being on the cutting edge of the science of health and energy enhancement. You’re going to love him. He is super knowledgeable, but he tries to explain things in ways that are understandable, which I really appreciate.
In This Interview, We are Going to Talk About…
What are mitochondria and why is it so important
How as a society we have created all of these problems
The use it or lose it mentality
How food is related to mitochondrial health
Key takeaways regarding food
The timing of when we eat matters
If you need melatonin supplementation
Ari’s new book: Eat for Energy
Welcome, Ari to the Gutsy Gynecologist!
Ari: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dr. Tabatha: I’m super excited to talk to you because all the work you’re doing impacts everybody. I have yet to meet a person who tells me they feel amazing and have boundless energy.
Ari: Absolutely. With the rise of the obesity, cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases epidemic, chronic fatigue is the same. It’s not something that’s unique to chronic fatigue syndrome or specifically only to people who are debilitated with chronic fatigue and bedridden and can’t function anymore. There are many shades of grey of people who crash in the afternoons or just have half the energy levels that they did when they were younger and are looking to get that energy back. So that’s what I do. I’m obsessed with it and it’s what I love doing.
Dr. Tabatha: It’s so needed, like you said, everybody’s feeling it. I hear all the time, I need a nap after lunch, I’m dragging in the afternoon, or get my second wind in the evening. That’s all energy stuff.
What are Mitochondria and Why are They so Important?
Ari: We all heard about mitochondria in high school and college biology courses. They’re the powerhouse of the cell and that’s where the cell produces its energy.
Virtually all of the trillions of cells of our body have between hundreds and 1000s of mitochondria in them that are responsible for producing all of the energy that powers those cells from your muscle, skin, brain, heart, liver, and intestinal cells.
Basically, Everything Relies on Mitochondria to Produce Energy.
If those cells in your body don’t have adequate energy because those mitochondria are not producing enough energy, then the function of those cells suffers. Since you are basically a collection of cells if the energy-producing units of those cells are not producing enough energy you feel fatigued.
Mitochondria Have a Second Job That you Might Not Know About
Mitochondria are not just these mindless energy generators taking in carbs and fats and pumping out energy in the form of ATP. It’s called adenosine triphosphate, (that’s the energy your cells use), but they have this role as environmental sensors. They’re constantly taking samples of the environment around them. They’re asking things like…
- what’s going on in the cell?
- what’s going on in the blood?
- are we in danger?
- Are we under attack?
If they perceive themselves to be under attack or under stress, they turn down the dial on energy production and shift resources towards cellular defense.
Lifestyle stressors could be everything from…
- poor nutrition
- sleep deprivation
- circadian rhythm disruption
- poor gut health
- environmental toxicants
- psychological stress
- light deficiencies
- any other stressor you can imagine.
If they think they are under attack and want to turn down energy production to shift resources towards cellular defense, ultimately, you feel the symptom of low energy levels. That’s ultimately the main thing that is regulating human energy levels.
Dr. Tabatha: I love how you explain that because it makes so much sense. If you are working on handling everything going on in your environment, your stressors, you can’t be producing energy.
Fatigue Should be a Warning Sign
I would like people to think of fatigue and chronic fatigue as a precursor, a symptom, or a warning before you get more serious diseases. It’s basically a warning that your cells and your mitochondria are not working well.
This is not something that is purely a concern. For instance, am I operating at 60% of my energy capacity or 100%? Mitochondrial health is vital for living a long life and for disease prevention.
There Are Two Fundamental Causes of Fatigue
I like to think of energy levels or fatigue as having two fundamental causes. One is what’s going on at the environment and lifestyle level. For example nutrition factors, environmental toxins exposure, psychological stress, light deficiencies, toxicities, circadian rhythm, sleep, etc.
The second is how all of those different factors interact with you, your cells, your body, and your mitochondria. That influences what I call your resilience threshold. Which is your capacity to tolerate stressors, and maintain health, and homeostasis.
So if you have a combination of too much stress at the environment and lifestyle level combined with a body that has lost its resilience at the cellular level. Your mitochondria switch out of energy mode and switch into defense mode. Then you feel the symptom of low energy levels as a result.
How to Increase Your Energy by Keeping Your Mitochondria Healthy
Ari: First of all, research has shown that mitochondrial capacity on average declines about 10% per decade of life. So between the ages of 20 and 70, most people lose 75% of their mitochondrial capacity. Now, someone might hear that and think, “Oh, geez, aging really sucks that it does that to us.” Except we also know that if you look at a 70-year-old who was a lifelong exerciser and athlete they have the same mitochondrial capacity as a young adult. So, what that means is that the loss of mitochondria is actually not just a normal product of aging. It’s a product of a lack of hormetic stress.
Look for Opportunities to Add Hormetic Stress
The modern lifestyle does not challenge mitochondria adequately because they need hormetic stress. They need to be challenged through transient metabolic stressors that cause them to work harder such as exercise and the different subtypes of exercise.
Other types of hormetic stressors are…
- breath-holding practices
- heat exposure
- cold exposure
- different kinds of phytochemicals
- fasting, and intermittent nutrient depletion
- functioning in a low carb state, reduced-fat, or in a totally fasted state.
All of these things challenge the mitochondria, stimulate them to keep them strong, and robust, and stimulate them to grow stronger or even create more of them which is something called mitochondrial biogenesis.
Mitochondrial Growth is Related to Your Lifestyle
This whole process is dynamic. They’re in constant communication with your lifestyle. So if like most people in the modern world, you live in a non-hormetic lifestyle, where you’re
- largely sedentary
- overconsuming food
- not eating adequate phytonutrients (ie plants)
- not engaging in periods of fasting, transient nutrient, intermittent nutrient depletion
- if you’re not being exposed to the elements like heat and cold because you’re in mostly indoor climate-controlled environments
You’re living a non-hormetic lifestyle and that is not stimulating them or challenging them to keep them strong. That’s fundamentally what causes most people to lose 10% of their mitochondrial capacity with each decade of life. The good news is, we can reverse that and we can actually cause our mitochondria to grow stronger and increase more of them through mitochondrial biogenesis if we reincorporate those different kinds of hormetic stressors into our life.
You Can Regrow Your Mitochondria and Increase Your Energy Levels
Ari: It’s amazing how fast this process happens. Say you go on vacation for a month or you get sick and you are not doing your normal workout routine. You can go from a very high level of fitness to losing a huge chunk of that fitness you’ve built up in literally just a few weeks of not stimulating it. That’s how fast your body’s going, “Let’s get rid of all those mitochondria that we’ve built up because clearly, we’re not using them.”
If You Haven’t Been Engaging in Exercise or Other Hermetic Stressors, Start Slow
Now, if you’re talking about someone who hasn’t been exercising at all in years or decades with any sort of vigorous or high-intensity exercise, then absolutely, their mitochondria are in a very weakened state. They have to ease very slowly into building their mitochondrial capacity up to tolerate a significant amount of exercise.
You can’t take somebody off the couch who has been sedentary and never lifted a weight and say, “Okay, go benchpress 300 pounds or go run a marathon.” Those are capacities that have to be built up over months or years of hard consistent work. What you can do is take somebody who is in that state and have them go for a five-minute walk, a 30-minute walk, or a very light jog for three minutes a day. You start there and then you slowly build the capacity up systematically because overdoing it is just as harmful as not doing any of it.
It’s the same as taking someone who’s been indoors for months and hasn’t gotten any sun on their skin and saying and telling them to go out into the midday sun of Costa Rica and sunbathe for two hours. The sun is really healthy and beneficial for you, but in that context, that dosage is way more harmful than beneficial.
Dr. Tabatha: Yeah, definitely. You mentioned briefly a lot of different things that we can do to stimulate mitochondrial production, but I’m guessing that nutrition is a big key to it since your new book is titled Eat for Energy.
How is Food Related to Mitochondrial Health?
Ari: Anything that’s going on at the nutritional level that is any sort of danger signal is going to trigger the mitochondria to shut down energy production or turn down the dial on energy production and shift more into cell defense mode. That can come in the form of many different things.
- Anything that is inflammatory or causes oxidative stress, or a combination of the two
- Substances that damage gut health, the microbiome, or causes gut permeability
- Things that cause your immune system to activate long term
- Anything that causes huge blood sugar swings or periods of hypo or hyperglycemia
- Getting too many nutrients or too many calories
- Too much body fat
- Toxins in your food or environment
The mitochondria will sense those things and turn down the dial on energy production.
What are the Big Key Takeaways Regarding Food and Increasing Energy?
Ari: Let’s start with when you eat this can have a huge effect on your physiology. Engage in time-restricted eating. What this means is to restrict eating and only eat during a 6 to 10-hour window. This dramatically decreases oxidative stress in the body, increases insulin sensitivity, improves other markers of metabolic health, lowers inflammatory markers, improve sleep quality, and improves energy levels. Just by doing that one thing.
Reset Your Internal Clock
We have a biological clock built into our body. It’s a 24-hour biological clock. It regulates and influences many different neurotransmitters and hormones throughout our body and the function of our mitochondria through many different mechanisms. We have a central clock in the brain. It heavily influences many different neurotransmitters. Things such as GABA, which influences our sleep, dopamine, and serotonin, which influence mood, motivation, and energy levels, and the capacity to feel joy.
Your Internal Clock Regulates Your Hormones
The circadian rhythm influences many different hormones, including testosterone, growth hormone, thyroid hormone, cortisol, and melatonin. All of which either directly or indirectly impact energy levels, mood, and many other aspects of how we feel and how we function. If your circadian rhythm is not optimal, then all of those things I just mentioned and the different neurotransmitters and hormones are paying a price.
Your Internal Clock is Also Primarily Responsive to Light
The central clock is primarily responsive to light. So, what we really want to do is get as much light during the day as possible. Outdoor bright sunlight, which is 100 to 1000 fold greater light intensity than indoor light. We especially want to get it within the first half hour of the day. We also want to ideally modify the lighting in our homes to shift more towards incandescent, halogen, or candlelight as opposed to fluorescence and LEDs.
Also, use software on our computers and phones to get rid of blue light. It’s precisely the blue light photons that are acting as this daytime signal to the clock in your brain and telling your brain that it’s daytime. We also want to wear blue-light-blocking glasses in the evening an hour or two before bed to minimize or eliminate the amount of blue light going into our eyes into that central clock in the brain.
You Should Synchronize Your Eating Window with Daylight
For example, studies show that if you give animals equivalent amounts of food, but in one group, you give them the food during the hours that they’re supposed to be awake and alert versus the other group you give them food only during the time they’re supposed to be asleep, even if they eat the exact same amount of food and the same type of food and everything’s the same, just those hours when they’re eating you will see profound metabolic dysfunction, increased inflammation, and insulin resistance. These mice will get obese in the process just from eating most of their food at the wrong time of day.
Eat More of Your Calories Earlier in the Day
There is research where they’ve compared shifting most of your calories towards the early part of the day or the later part of the day. So in other words, having 50% of your calories with breakfast, having a smaller lunch and a small dinner versus having a much larger dinner, 50% plus of your calories at dinner, and then a very small breakfast, and lunch.
Even if people are eating the exact same amount of total calories, the group that’s consuming more of their calories earlier in the day ends up losing way more body fat. That is in large part due to how consuming more of the food optimizes your physiology in many ways. For example, it improves your blood sugar and insulin responses. That meal increases your energy levels and causes you to burn more energy during the daytime when you have more food earlier in the day.
Third Shift is Actually Hazardous to Your Health
Ari: Do whatever you can, in the future, to get out of shift work if at all possible. It’s the only job that’s classified as a carcinogen in itself. The job itself does not have exposures to chemicals while you’re on the job, but the job itself is carcinogenic.
Dr. Tabatha: Exactly. I can’t tell you how many OB nurses would be on third shift, helping deliver babies all night long and they’re the ones suffering the most from breast cancer, obesity, and diabetes. If you are stuck in that situation, see what you can do to get out of it because it’s impacting your health so much.
Get Plenty of Sleep and Optimize Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is the link between sleep and energy. There are two sides of the same coin linked by your circadian rhythm and if you’re not honoring your circadian rhythm and optimizing it, both your sleep and energy levels suffer. If your sleep suffers and your mitochondrial energy production suffers, you’re also predisposing yourself to so many different diseases.
Wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses to Increase Melatonin by 50-70%
One thing I’ll mention is melatonin. Many people know it as the substance that’s involved in sleep. People know it as a supplement, but the truth is melatonin is a hormone produced by your body. And guess what? It’s not only involved in sleep, but it’s probably the single most important mitochondrial antioxidant ever discovered. We need to produce lots of melatonin each night.
Well, it turns out that just being in the presence of standard indoor home lighting without wearing blue blockers suppresses melatonin levels by 50 to 70%. Melatonin is this vital hormone that needs to soak into your mitochondria every night and help recharge them and protect them from accumulating damage.
Not Getting Enough Melatonin Could Increase Your Risk of Developing Cancer
If the mitochondria aren’t being saturated with melatonin each night, it makes you massively prone to developing cancer. Basically what happens if you’re now living a lifestyle where you are suppressing melatonin levels by 50 or 70%, every single night, month after month, year after year for decades, well, you’re accumulating a lot of mitochondrial damage, which is going to result in fatigue and you’re increasing your risk of developing lots of things that are associated with that, like neurological disease and cancer.
Should You Supplement with Melatonin?
Ari: It’s a complex thing. I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of individual variability in response to exogenous melatonin. I have discovered this largely because I’m one of these people. I estimate there are between 15 or 20% of people that are hypersensitive to supplemental melatonin. I find even small doses, even kids’ doses, actually causes insomnia for me and make me feel horribly groggy the following morning. They just don’t work for me when I take anything more than a very tiny microdose. Then there are people who can take 5 – 20 milligrams.
There’s research on treating different conditions such as brain, gut, and cancers where they’ve used doses that are 40 – 80 milligrams a day, which is 100 fold more than I can tolerate. I think there’s a genetic component because my father is exactly the same as me. He also is extremely hypersensitive to melatonin even though he’s in his 70s and probably has much lower natural melatonin than I do. So I think there’s a huge individual response to that. Having said that the research on supplemental melatonin is mostly positive for many different conditions. So I’m not necessarily warning against it and if it works for you go for it.
Try Red or Near-Infrared Light Therapy
Something else that’s interesting and a new discovery is the effects of red and near-infarred light therapy. Research has discovered that the primary thing that influences melatonin production is light. It’s red and near-infrared light. Sunlight provides red and near-infrared light. So basically what I’m saying is we get much more from sunlight than just vitamin D, as is the common narrative. You cannot replace sunlight exposure with vitamin D pills because we’re getting many, many more benefits from sunlight than just vitamin D.
Tell Us About Your New Book
Ari: It’s called Eat for Energy: How to Beat Fatigue, Supercharge Your Mitochondria, and Unlock All-Day Energy. It’s not a specific diet. I’m compiling the science on nutrition as it relates to human energy and mitochondrial optimization. I’m basically saying, “Hey, here’s a bunch of practical strategies for optimizing your circadian rhythm, which affects sleep, energy, and hormones in a profound way.”
It Has Strategies to Optimize Body Composition
I also provide a bunch of strategies to optimize your body composition to gain muscle and lose fat, which plays a hugely important role in our energy levels and disease prevention. I give a bunch of nutritional strategies to optimize your blood sugar so that you’re not having wild swings into hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, which is critical for disease prevention, brain health, brain function, energy levels, and mood. There are strategies to optimize your gut health. We know that gut health is profoundly important for energy levels and for disease prevention. Also, there are a bunch of strategies to optimize your brain health.
My Book Also Has a Chapter on Superfoods for Increasing Energy and Mitochondrial Health
Then beyond those five different chapters. There’s a whole other section, two more chapters, one on superfoods for energy production and mitochondrial health and basically an encyclopedia on all of the top supplements and herbs for optimizing energy levels. Just that one chapter alone is absolutely worth the price of admission. You will not find that information compiled like that anywhere else.
If You Buy the Book, Make Sure to Get the Bonuses
If you buy the book and you email us the receipt, we will gift you $400 worth of free courses. We’ll give you a course on sleep and circadian rhythm optimization and on brain health and neurotransmitter optimization.
These are courses that normally cost $200 each on our website, but we’re just throwing them in as a thank you to incentivize people to go get the book.
Dr. Tabatha: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. This has been awesome.
Ari: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
That’s a Wrap
Dr. Tabatha: Ari focuses on mitochondrial energy and increasing your energy levels. He studies and researches it endlessly. The stuff that he comes up with is absolutely incredible and it works. If you’re struggling, here is where you need to start. Do time-restricted feeding, change up what you’re eating, and move your body for mitochondrial health.
Next, focus on decreasing your environmental toxins. We all live in this toxic world and we’re exposed to toxicants on a daily basis that we think are normal. We’re using nonstick pans that are putting horrible chemicals into our air and into our food. All of our food is packaged in plastics. We use chemicals to wash, lotions, cosmetics, tampons, and pads. They’re all full of these chemicals that are really damaging our mitochondria and having a profound impact on how we feel.
It’s super important to clean up your life. You know, it’s one thing to clean up your life in the fact that you shouldn’t smoke or drink alcohol on a daily basis, but now we have to worry about cleaning up just what we’re exposed to every day. So I would love for you to start thinking about that a little bit more.
I love how Ari talks about focusing on your circadian rhythms and getting outside when the sun comes up in the morning, eating during the daylight only, and protecting ourselves from the blue light of our cell phones, computers, and iPads. All of that stuff messes with our circadian rhythms.