Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue blog post on Find my energy website

Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue

How are Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue linked? Some doctors argue this is the key to understanding CFS…

So, this is where we get into the ‘fancy science’! However, you don’t need to worry that I’ll be giving you a really complicated lecture here. I will be trying to explain Mitochondria and chronic fatigue in “layman’s” terms. (I will also link to some of the detailed science for those of you who wish to explore further).

Let me start by giving you a summary of the critical information. Then we will delve deeper into the exact mechanics…

A (very) quick summary of Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue

Mitochondria control the production and supply of energy to your cells to allow each cell to do its specific job, and ultimately, allow your body to function.

Lack of resources can mean that your Mitochondria are struggling to produce all the energy that your cells require. This will leave you feeling tired (perhaps to the point of not being able to function at all).

However, your body may have all the resources it requires. And your Mitochondria may be producing the energy correctly. But they also regulate your cells.

So, if they perceive a danger which requires that cell to shut down – or even die – they will stop the supply of energy. This is going to result in the same feeling of tiredness, to exhaustion.

Now, let’s unpack what that means in detail. We’ll explore how this understanding of Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue seems to provide a powerful explanation for what you are actually experiencing. And, more importantly, what you can do about it!

What are Mitochondria?

Every single cell of your body contains Mitochondria, no matter what type of cell, or what organ or system it belongs to.

They perform tasks to do with regulating the cell, but science is only just beginning to understand their importance. So, this is an evolving field of knowledge.

When we’re talking about Mitochondria in the context of CFS, the first important thing to understand is that one of their roles is to provide the energy that allows the individual cell to do its particular job. So, for example, a heart cell would be doing something different than a liver cell, or a brain cell. Yet, the same source powers all these cells: Mitochondria.

How do Mitochondria provide energy?

This is where some basic science starts to come in.

A molecule called ATP provides the energy currency of the body. (Adenosine TriPhosphate…within that complicated name focus on ‘Tri’ – the Latin for Three). In very simple terms, in order to provide energy, ATP undergoes a chemical reaction which creates the charge that powers the cell.

However, in the process, the ATP changes into ADP (Adenosine DiPhosphate…di meaning two…in other words, it loses one of its phosphates). The Mitochondria, through a fancy process, called oxidative phosphorylation, adds a new phosphate onto the ADP, turning it back into ATP, ready to generate more energy for the cell.

In a healthy person, this process takes approximately ten seconds. It is a brilliantly effective and efficient way of producing energy.

However, if something gets in the way of this system working effectively, then the molecules of ADP begin stacking up faster than the Mitochondria can convert them back into ATP. And, if the ADP is forced to wait for too long, it ends up losing another phosphate. That turns it into AMP (Adenosine MonoPhosphate…mono being one). This is a disaster. AMP cannot be turned into ATP, so it is effectively a waste product, which your body will excrete in urine.

All of which means, the body then has to begin producing new ATP from scratch, instead of using the more efficient recycling method.

The Krebs cycle: energy production, Find My Energy website
Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue: energy production via the Krebs cycle

What is wrong with producing ATP from scratch?

That process takes a few days. So, it effectively means that your cells are being starved of energy, and unable to work effectively. This is what produces the fatigue.

Now, the body can make ATP fairly quickly from a substance called D-Ribose. However, that is only manufactured very slowly (1-4 days) from glucose. So, that would explain the delay in re-energising after a crash.

In a dire emergency, the body can also create ATP anaerobically, by turning glucose into lactic acid. However, this creates two problems. First, it is creating lactic acid, which in turn results in muscle pain (another common symptom of CFS). Second, by turning glucose into lactic acid, you then have less glucose with which to create D-Ribose. So, the ATP manufacture is delayed even further.

This is what lies behind the ‘crash’ phase when you feel unable to do anything at all. Your body has literally stopped you in your tracks because it has run out of the energy to function. (If you would like to read more of the science behind this process, follow this link).

Incidentally, this is also why a lot of practitioners recommend taking D-Ribose in supplement form. And this does seem to help many people. However, it is not a long-term solution because it is not addressing why the Mitochondria are failing. It also comes with some down-sides. Synthetic D-Ribose can exacerbate issues with fermentation in the gut. Synthetic D-Ribose is derived from corn, so will affect anyone who has a corn allergy/sensitivity.

Mitochondria and chronic fatigue: disruption in the Krebs cycle explains the process and symptoms of CFS, Find My Energy website
Mitochondria and chronic fatigue: Disruption in normal energy production

Why does the energy generation cycle fail?

First, there is an obvious reason. If the body is lacking in the basic resources to support the energy cycle, then it is going to be working under strain. So, what are some of those basic resources?


A good, healthy diet offers one of the most obvious of those resources. Namely, the necessary vitamins and minerals. Now, you can do a lot to help yourself by focusing on a diet that follows these basic guidelines:

A simple guide to best practice for good nutrition, find my energy website

You will find different people recommending specific diets: vegan, paleo, keto, Mediterranean, etc., etc. The list goes on and on, and new diets seem to be emerging all the time.

The truth is, your body may have its own ‘ideal diet’. But the best way of discovering it is to use your intuition and eat what feels good to you. However, I don’t mean ‘feels good’ in terms of giving you a temporary mood boost (a diet of 100% chocolate isn’t great!). You are looking to ‘feel good’ in terms of feeling satisfied and energised for maximum time.

And, yes, there will be some of you for whom your basic food is not giving your body all the raw materials that it needs right now. In that case, taking supplements might be helpful.

However, I would strongly recommend working with a nutritionist (and pick one who really understands CFS), to help with this. Different supplements can affect one another.

For example, it may be that your body seems in need of a particular supplement. But when you look into it, your diet is actually providing that already. The real problem is that your body can’t absorb that supplement, because it is lacking in some other nutritional element. So, you really need expert help, directed to your body specifically, to optimise this area.


A second resource is a good supply of oxygen. Unfortunately, many of us have got into habits of shallow breathing, which do not help.

So, you might want to try learning some breathing exercises. This 20-minute video is a great routine to help with breathing. Although the video is labelled as yoga, it’s not too strenuous for those of you who are really impacted by low energy right now.


Sleep is the number one way in which your body restores and rests. So, if you are experiencing sleep issues, taking steps to improve those is going to help enormously.

This is an area I will cover all on its own, here on the website.


Essentially, we are all powered by natural daylight. Again, modern lifestyles mean that a lot of us are not spending enough time outside in natural light. And, of course, if you are stuck in bed, this is likely to be true for you as well.

If you can, try and spend even just a few minutes per day outside. Ideally, it is good to do this at different times of the day. So, try for a few minutes first thing in the morning, a few minutes in the middle of the day, and a few minutes at the end of the day.

The light is changing throughout the day, as you know. Those changes are what signal our bodies that it is time to wake up and energise, to be active, and then to wind down and rest. In other words, it is light that powers our body clocks.

So, not only will this help you support your body in terms of energy, it also helps to support your body’s ability to sleep at night. Your body is taking the natural cue that it is time to wind down and rest.

The basic recipe for supporting energy production via your Mitochondria. Losing these supplies can lead to chronic fatigue. Find my energy website.

Now, these are not the only factors that help support (or may be working against) energy production. And, it is unlikely that any single one of these on its own is going to fix everything.

If you can remember back to where I started this section, I said there were a couple of factors that could be preventing the Mitochondria from working effectively. So, if this covers the first area, what is the second?

The Cell Danger Response

Remember how I said that we are still learning exactly how the Mitochondria work? Well, the ideas I am about to share here are really new. It is only in fairly recent years that Robert Naviaux has been developing and sharing his research into the Cell Danger Response. His research findings have provided a critical piece of understanding mitochondria and chronic fatigue.

What is the Cell Danger Response (CDR)?

Basically, the CDR is a natural response to the cell’s environment, designed to protect the cell…and ultimately, the body. So, if the Mitochondria detect a threat in the environment, they communicate what action the cell should take. Should it continue as normal, or increase its activity, or decrease its activity, or kill itself?

Think of this like a warzone. Whoever is in charge in this situation has to decide what action will give the greatest chance of survival for the majority of the population. So, it might be that fighting the enemy is the best plan. Or it may be that hiding and taking no action is better. Perhaps it is even necessary to destroy some of your own resources in order to protect what is left. (For example, a retreating army may burn crops as it retreats, so that the invading enemy won’t have access to food. Yet, this also means that the army itself is losing access to that same food).

Hopefully you get the picture! The Mitochondria are trying to detect threats and take appropriate action for long-term survival. Yet, in the short-term, that may mean temporary distress.

So, what turns on the Cell Danger Response?

Perceived danger. This could be actual danger, like a virus, bacteria, or toxin (for example chemicals). Or it could be something this is only perceived to be a threat…like bullying, for example. (In most cases, someone shouting abuse is not going to physically cause your body to die, but it does cause it to shut down because this mental/emotional attack feels every bit as real as a physical attack).

So, this Cell Danger Response is very similar to what has been long-documented about the stress response. The difference is, this is now looking very directly at what happens inside the cells, rather than the more general pattern of the brain signalling the body to switch off, or ramp up certain systems in order to manage the response to the threat.

Now, I could write entire essays on this subject, but it’s probably best if you go and delve deeper for yourself if you wish to do that. You can find Dr Naviaux’s work on his website.

The important thing here is that, even if you are providing your body with all the basic support it needs to create energy, if your CDR is activated, that may be the real factor that is blocking your energy supply.

Cartoon graphic to illustrate the Cell Danger Response, Find My Energy website
Cartoon graphic to illustrate the Cell Danger Response, Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue

What turns the Cell Danger Response off?

In a healthy body, the Mitochondria will stop activating the CDR when it perceives that the danger has passed and the cell is no longer under threat.

So, what is happening in a chronically unhealthy body? The body is perceived to be under constant threat. This may be true: it may be that the body is dealing with an unhealthy level of chemical or environmental toxins. Or it may be that the ongoing threat is more emotional in nature: stored trauma from past events where the damage inflicted was not fully processed and healed at the time.

If this is happening to you, how would you fix it?

That is the next path along your maze (click here to learn more about the maze model). Working out which threats may be present in your body, and then removing them.

So, it could be that, for you, there is just one issue, and once you fully resolve that, your CDR will switch off, your energy production and distribution will return to normal and you will be back to living a fulfilling life.

Or, it may be that there are several things impacting you. So, resolving just one of them is going to help you, but will not solve the problem completely. You are going to need to work through to identify and resolve each issue in turn.

Now, that might sound like a lot of work. But just remember that each step you take is another step towards the way you would like to be feeling, and away from the discomfort you are currently experiencing.

Why have you tried lots of treatments and not (yet) healed?

Hopefully, the above explanation of mitochondria and chronic fatigue has shown you that this problem is very complicated. So, it can easily be that you have tried treatments that focus on one area, or perhaps a couple of areas. Either those areas were not the biggest problem for your body. Or, there are still more areas that require attention.

This does not mean that you cannot, or will not, heal. Simply, that you still need to travel a little further. Some of the treatments you have been using may already be helping with some areas, so you will be experiencing some improvement in the way you feel. In some cases, treatments may have done all that they can, or perhaps weren’t even needed by your body.

So, as you move on to try new things, it is important to retain the things that are already supporting you. For example, if you have a good sleep routine, you’re eating a good diet, keep those things in place: they will continue to support your energy production. But are you now beginning to wonder if you have ‘threats’ to your system that you might want to tackle next?

And, if you’re not sure where you are, follow this link for more help.

Find My Energy Self Help Guide for moving through the maze of chronic fatigue
Self Help Guide

A summary of Mitochondria and Chronic Fatigue

The Mitochondria control the production and supply of energy to your cells to allow them each to do their specific job, and ultimately allow your body to function.

Lack of resources can mean that your Mitochondria are struggling to produce all the energy that your cells require. This will leave you feeling tired (perhaps to the point of not being able to function at all).

However, your body may have all the resources it requires, and your Mitochondria may be producing the energy correctly, but they also control how it is supplied to your cells.

So, if they perceive a danger which requires that cell to shut down – or even die – they will stop the supply of energy. This is going to result in the same feeling of tiredness, to exhaustion.

What is the solution to this problem?

First, make sure your body has all the resources it needs to produce energy. Second, remove any threats that might be impacting the supply of energy.

How do you find that solution? Click here for more help.


Take the next step in your CFS journey