Parneet Pal: The Song of our Mitochondria

To solve the polycrisis around us, we need to understand the crisis within our own biology.

Dr. Parneet Pal, MBBS, MS, is a Harvard- and Columbia-trained physician working at the intersection of business, lifestyle medicine and behaviour change. As an educator and communicator, she applies her expertise to optimise health and performance, and its impact on business leadership and planetary wellbeing.

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A very long time ago, the Earth was very different. There was almost no oxygen, until some bacteria started photosynthesising, creating oxygen, and the conditions for oxygen-breathing life.

The purpose of life is to create life and the conditions of life. That engulfed bacteria became the seed of what we know as mitochondria. It’s the basis of life as we know it on Earth. 14 quadrillion mitochondria fuel our lives, and everything we do. Your heart muscles cells have the most mitochondria.

Yet, in the Anthropocene era, we have created the conditions to extinguish our own lives. Inflammation is the natural response of our cells to attack and threat. And it’s at an all-time high in all of us. It’s the root of many of the disease we suffer in our lifetimes. Even low levels of inflammation affect our moment-to-moment decision-making. It makes us more impulsive, prone to short-term thinking, and less empathic and creative.

A crisis in the mitochondria

Think of this an internal energy crisis. But also think of the impact it has on us, on our leaders, on our politicians. Think of rampant consumerism, and of technology addiction. No wonder we’re not moving fast enough to address the climate crisis. We personally put off our health needs, to a future that never comes. We come to work with the best intentions, but are tired, so we fuel ourselves with junk food and caffeine. Likewise, we lull ourselves to sleep with medicine and alcohol. It leads to our productivity problems – and burnout.

We’ve forgotten the biology at the heart of it. But we can address that, avoid 80 to 90% of those illnesses – and make better decisions. We can make our biology work for us, not against us.

Mitochondria love whole foods grown in microbiome rich soil. Our environment is us. The body has a narrow band of operation called homeostasis, of ph and temperature, that’s ideal for survival. Our inner ecology and our outer ecology are linked. Our mitochondria track the movement of the sun in the sky, through the circadian rhythm. Likewise, our gene expressions and metabolic process change throughout the day. Our mitochondria run cellular circular economies, regenerating dead cells into new ones. Your gut lining renews itself every two to three days.

The external is the internal

Parneet Pal speaking at NEXT23

The mitochondria are collaborating with a microbiome of biodiversity within our bodies. Reducing biodiversity of the earth less to less in food, which leads to less in us. Damaging the planet is literally damaging ourselves. We have the resources we need to create a stable ecology to support our biological health for the foreseeable future. But we aren’t making the decision to implement that.

In 2022, the IPCC report included the need for an inner transition to support the outer transition to a sustainable world. We must not forget that in a moment of crisis — a polycrisis — we can’t outrun our biology. We need to start with a biological and health transformation. That’s the root of any other transformation we need to work.

For too long, the narrative has all been about the negative impacts. It’s time to take back our power, starting with our health and lifestyles. Lower inflammation, make better decisions, and work towards a world that works for all of humanity.