Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Symptoms of Mitochondrial Dysfunction

The following symptoms may indicate that your child has mitochondrial dysfunction or a problem in energy production:

    Even if your child does not display any of the “classic” symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction (listed above), your child may still be affected.

    It is now believed by many research scientists and an increasing number of physicians that mitochondrial dysfunction may be a critical part of the underlying pathophysiology in the following health conditions:

    What Is Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

    Mitochondria are the “power plants” of the body. They make the energy to power cells in every part of the body, including the major organs requiring significant amounts of energy to function properly. The organs in the body that require the most energy are the brain, muscles, liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, heart and lungs.

    Mitochondrial disease or mitochondrial dysfunction is what occurs when the mitochondria are not able to do their job due to genetic or environmental factors. When the mitochondria are not working properly, a whole host of symptoms may appear. According to the UMDF (United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation),  an affected individual may have:

    An undiagnosed child may exhibit feeding problems, be unable to fight typical childhood infections or have repeated infections and fevers without a known origin. A red flag for mitochondrial dysfunction is when a child has more than three organ systems with problems or when a typical disease exhibits atypical qualities.

    How Do I Know If My Child Has Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

    There are certain blood tests that may indicate that a child has mitochondrial dysfunction.  Ask an integrative or holistic physician or practitioner to look for the following “red flags” in laboratory blood work:

    • Elevated levels of:
      • Ammonia
      • Alanine
      • Alanine/lysine ratio
      • Glycine
      • Proline
      • Tyrosine
      • Sarcosine
      • Lactate/pyruvate ratio
      • Acetyl free carnitine ratio
      • Elevations suggesting disruptions in fatty acid oxidation
    • Reduced free and total carnitine
    • Irregular urine organic acid screening:
      • TCA intermediates
      • Ehylmalonate
      • 3-methylglutaconate
      • Dicarboxylic acids
      • Methylmalonic acid


    Consider seeing a geneticist who specializes in mitochondrial disease. A list of mitochondrial disease doctors/specialists (with hospital affiliation) can be found here.

    A Mitochondrial Dysfunction Healing Checklist

    Make Lifestyle Changes

    • Get a good night's sleep
    • Get outside every day
    • Get an hour of exercise or movement per day
    • Sync circadian rhythm by getting up when the sun does and going to bed after it sets
    • Limit screen time as much as possible
    • Use blue-blocking lightbulbs and glasses at night, especially when looking at screens
    • Put bare feet in wet ground when possible
    • Drink half body weight in ounces of water

    Eat a Clean Diet

    Use Only High-Quality Fats

    • Coconut oil
    • Olive oil (unheated)
    • Avocados
    • Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) oil
    • Grass-fed ghee
    • Duck fat
    • Grass-fed beef tallow
    • Cod liver oil (unheated)
    • Walnut oil (unheated)

    Remove Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats

    • Canola
    • Corn
    • Soy
    • Safflower
    • Sunflower
    • Hydrogenated vegetable oils (Crisco, etc.)
    • Margarine

    Include High-Quality Protein with Every Meal

    • Pasture-raised eggs, chicken and other fowl
    • Grass-fed beef, lamb and other red meats
    • Wild-caught fish
    • Legumes
    • Nuts

    Eliminate High-Glutamate Foods

    These foods and ingredients can exacerbate neurological symptoms because of the excitoxicity they cause in the brain. These are some of the most-common, high-glutamate foods to remove:

    • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
    • Soy protein isolate
    • Yeast extract
    • Gelatin
    • Barley malt
    • Bouillon
    • Natural flavors
    • Artificial flavors
    • Soy sauce
    • Corn starch
    • Others

    Add Fermented Foods and Probiotics

    These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.

    • Eat kefir yogurts, if dairy is tolerated
    • Eat fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kim chi
    • Eat umeboshi plums, which are very alkalizing
    • Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
    • Take a quality probiotic, such as VSL #3, Gut Pro, Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics, Garden of Life, Klaire Labs. Work with your practitioner for a more targeted probiotic.

    Optimize Blood Sugar

    Blood sugar that is too high can lead to excess inflammation and hormonal imbalances.

    Blood sugar that is too low can lead to attention and behavioral problems.

    We recommend keeping blood sugar optimized so that it's neither too low nor too high.

    Do an Elimination Diet

    Children with chronic health conditions often have hidden food sensitivities and intolerances that exacerbate their symptoms. With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:

    • Casein
    • Gluten
    • Soy
    • Corn
    • Eggs
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
    • Nuts
    • Peanuts

    Clean up Your Environment

    • Identify and remove possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
    • Identify and remove possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products
    • Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
    • Remove carpets
    • Use non-toxic cleaners
    • Use non-toxic building materials

    Lower Stress Levels

    Viruses, bacteria and other pathogens become more active when the body is in a state of stress.

    By teaching your child ways to self-regulate with practices such as prayer, reiki, meditation, yoga, qi gong, tai chi and the Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), they can become good advocates for themselves and become active participants in the recovery process.

    Practitioners of techniques such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining) and jin shin jyutsu can lower stress levels for your child, as well.

    See a Homeopath, Naturopath or Homotoxicologist

    These practitioners can diagnose and treat gastrointestinal disorders naturally so that the child’s immune, sensory, neurological and nervous systems develop without being compromised.

    Ask Your Practitioner to Run Some Laboratory Tests

    • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) for possible food sensitivities and allergies
    • Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D
    • NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs for malabsorption, gut dysbiosis, cellular energy, mitochondrial metabolism, neurotransmitter metabolism, vitamin deficiencies, toxin exposure and detoxification need
    • Organic Acid Test (OAT) for yeast overgrowth, other microbial infections and oxalates
    • Inflammation markers such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
    • Fasting blood sugar and insulin levels
    • Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis (CDSA)

    Have Your Child Tested for PANS/PANDAS

    Pathogenic infections and environmental offenders can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause neurological symptoms known collectively as PANS/PANDAS. However, not many practitioners know how to test for and treat these conditions. Common tests are:

    • Serum Anti-Streptolysin O (ASO) titer
    • Serum Anti-Streptococcal DNase B (ASDB) titer
    • Cunningham panel
    • Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections
    • Specific viruses, especially herpetic viruses
    • Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection
    • Heavy metals and other toxins
    • Mold

    Use Digestive Aids with your Practitioner's Guidance

    • Betaine hydrochloric acid
    • Digestive enzymes with DPP-IV for gluten and casein intolerances
    • Proteolytic enzymes
    • BiCarb
    • Bromelain
    • Papaya

    Use Supplements with Your Practitioner's Guidance

    Always work with your practitioner to determine the brand, type and dosage of supplements. Common supplements include the following:

    • Cod liver oil
    • Probiotics
    • Vitamin D3
    • Methylated B complex vitamins
    • GABA, especially PharmaGABA
    • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
    • Magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine and other minerals
    • Others

    Help Your Child Detoxify

    • Make sure your child is pooping every day. Learn more about how to clear up constipation and diarrhea.
    • Have your child exercise or move every day. Sweating carries toxins out of the body.
    • See a homotoxicologist, naturopath or homeopath for drainage remedies and detoxification aids.
    • Optimize blood sugar to allow the liver to spend more time detoxing rather than processing sugar.
    • Ionic foot baths can help detox unwanted pathogens and are easy to do with children.
    • Infared saunas can detox heavy metals through the skin by sweating. However, this form of detoxification may not be suitable for young children who lack the ability to sweat.
    • Epsom salt baths add sulfur transdermally to help with detox.

    Integrate Retained Primitive Reflexes

    Most, if not all, children with neurodevelopmental disorders including learning disabilities, have retained primitive reflexes.

    Find a therapist that is trained in integrating primitive reflexes, which can cause imbalances in the way your child's brain performs.

    See a Chiropractic Neurologist

    Chiropractic neurology is patient focused and utilizes the latest assessment techniques to create an individualized protocol to rehabilitate the central nervous system and develop neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) when addressing neurological conditions.

    Children with developmental delays, cognitive issues and deficits have improper communication between the right and left sides of the brain.

    See a Behavioral/Developmental Optometrist

    A developmental optometrist can check for convergence and tracking problems with your child's vision. He or she can correct these issues with vision therapy, lens and prisms. Doing so can improve hand-eye coordination and school performance.

    See a Craniosacral Practitioner

    Craniosacral therapy can reestablish central nervous system functioning. These practitioners use approaches rich in vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile input and may also do oral motor therapy.

    See a Neurofeedback Practitioner

    Neurofeedback is approved as a level-one intervention by the American Academy of Pediatrics for ADD and ADHD, which are learning disabilities.

    Even if your child doesn't have ADD or ADHD, they may still benefit from neurofeedback.

    Find a practitioner that can perform a QEEG (quantitative electroencephalograph) brain map first so you can understand how your child's brain works.

    See a Sensory-Integration Occupational Therapist

    These occupational therapists address a variety of sensory issues with a child using hands-on equipment. This type of therapy calms down the nervous system to help integrate the senses and retained reflexes.

    See a Chiropractor

    A chiropractor can perform spinal cord adjustments, which can improve communication in the nervous system.

    See an Auditory Therapist

    Many children with learning disabilities have auditory processing problems that may be causing problems with focus and concentration.

    An auditory therapist can devise a listening program that is specific to your child's needs. These programs can retrain the brain, calm down the nervous system and reduce sound sensitivities.

    Find a Brain Gym Practitioner

    A Brain Gym practitioner can have your child do exercises for sensorimotor coordination, self-calming and self-management.

    Work with a Health Coach

    Our Epidemic Answers health coaches are trained to understand the root causes of your child's chronic health condition.

    They provide hands-on helping with the practical matters of healing such as cooking healthy foods, removing toxins from the household and helping you work more efficiently with your practitioner.

    See an Acupuncturist

    Acupuncture can help lower stress and anxiety associated with sensory processing. It can also help with blood-sugar and hormonal regulation.

    See a NAET or BioSET Practitioner

    Children with chronic health conditions typically also have food allergies and/or food sensitivities and intolerances.

    NAET (Namudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique) and BioSET are two non-invasive methods of allergy elimination.

    Use Sensory Therapies and Tools


    Exercise helps the body’s mitochondria make new, baby mitochondria, so even though your child may loathe exercise, be sure to have them move as much as possible.

    Use mitochondria-boosting supplements with your practitioner’s guidance

    • Cod liver oil
    • Vitamin E
    • CoQ10
    • Phosphatidylcholine
    • MCT coconut oil
    • Acetyl-l-carnitine

    Still Looking for Answers?

    Visit the Epidemic Answers Practitioner Directory to find a practitioner near you.

    Join us inside our online membership community for parents, Healing Together, where you’ll find even more healing resources, expert guidance, and a community to support you every step of your child’s healing journey.

    Join MitoAction every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 12:30 EST to participate in a discussion regarding mitochondrial dysfunction and autism.  Call in to the conference call by phoning 1-866-414-2828 and enter code 017921# at the prompt.

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