Mitochondrial disease can look like any number of better known diseases, including: Autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy and chronic fatigue, among others. Adults and children with it can have features similar to other disorders like: Epilepsy, Myopathy, Developmental Delay, learning disabilities and Fibromyalgia.
Research shows that mitochondrial dysfunction is often a central element of these more commonly recognized diseases. Studies and reports indicate the “orange” ones are more influenced. A cure for mitochondrial disease could impact cures for Autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Muscular Dystrophy.
Due to a lack of physician and public awareness, patients with mitochondrial disease are often misdiagnosed, or left without a diagnosis at all. Only in the past ten years, with advances in genetics and molecular biology, have we a better understanding of the complexity in mitochondrial disorders.
As scientists have learned more about the mitochondria’s role in health and in disease, they have concluded that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of diseases and conditions that affect the young and the old, in ways that can range from subtle to devastating, and is even responsible for the aging process itself. The list of known diseases and conditions with a mitochondrial dysfunction component is long – and growing longer. In fact, research suggests that mitochondrial function may be the unifying theme – the Holy Grail of medicine, perhaps – of understanding a spectrum of diseases, conditions, and why we grow old.
How common is mitochondrial dysfunction?
If you have seen a person with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), you have encountered mitochondrial dysfunction. If you have met a child with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or epilepsy, mitochondrial dysfunction may be already affecting their developing brains. For these individuals, time is of the essence in developing therapies because once symptoms are apparent, mitochondrial dysfunction has already contributed to significant health issues. In these patients, recognizing and treating mitochondrial dysfunction now is essential.