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:

  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Gastrointestinal problems (reflux, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Failure to thrive
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Heart and kidney problems
  • Muscle failure
  • Heat/cold intolerance
  • Diabetes
  • Lactic acidosis
  • Immune system problems
  • Liver disease

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 Checklist to Start


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.

Make dietary changes:

  • Eat whole foods
  • Buy organic foods
  • Remove all GMO foods
  • Remove all fast and processed foods
  • Remove all foods with:
    • Artificial colors
    • Artificial ingredients
    • Preservatives
    • Phenols
    • Salicylates
  • With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
    • Casein
    • Gluten
    • Soy
    • Corn
    • Eggs
    • Fish
    • Shellfish
    • Nuts
    • Peanuts
  • Strictly limit:
    • Sugars
    • Refined salt
    • Refined carbohydrates
  • Consider implementing the Feingold diet

Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Wild salmon
  • Organic chicken
  • Organic turkey
  • Grass-fed ghee
  • Pasture-raised eggs
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Essential fatty acids from:
    • Cod liver oil
    • Hemp seeds
    • Flax seeds
    • Evening primrose oil
    • Borage oil
    • Walnut oil

Remove vegetable oils such as:

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower

Include plenty of high-quality proteins with every meal, such as:

  • Pasture-raised eggs and chicken
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Heal the gut with special diets such as:

Learn more about healing diets and foods.

Clean up your environment:

  • Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
  • Remove carpets
  • Use non-toxic cleaners
  • Use non-toxic building materials
  • Green your home

Use natural supplements with your practitioner’s guidance:

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

Help your child detoxify:

  • 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.

Learn about retained primitive reflexes:

Most, if not all, children with mitochondrial dysfunction 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 at a Brain Balance Center:

The Brain Balance program can help balance the right and left brain hemispheres and make neural connections to extinguish primitive reflexes.

See a sensory-integration occupational therapist:

These OTs 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.

Find a therapist doing Brain Gym:

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

Still Looking for Answers?

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

Join us at Healing Together, where you’ll find even more resources plus a community to support you, every step of the way.

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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