Cellular Respiration 101 – How the Body Creates Energy

Cellular respiration is the process all living things use to convert glucose into energy. The energy is in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). While the cellular respiration process and steps are numerous and complex, let us keep it simple and focus primarily on the three major phases: glycolysis, Krebs or citric acid cycle, and electron transport chain.  

The top-level chemical equation for cellular respiration in animals and humans is C6H12O6 (glucose) + 6 O2 (6 oxygen atoms) → 6 CO2 (6 carbon dioxide atoms) + 6 H2O (6 water atoms) + ~28-36 ATP (28-36 molecules of adenosine triphosphate*).

*It is worth noting that while the math works theoretically, in reality, living systems are not 100% efficient. The resulting amount of ATP can vary for numerous reasons. Let us focus on three main reasons: oxidative stress, insufficient amounts of copper/ceruloplasmin, and magnesium.  

The first phase, glycolysis, occurs within the fluid inside cells, outside of the mitochondria. It happens without oxygen and is thus anaerobic. During glycolysis, a glucose molecule is split, resulting in two molecules of pyruvate, two molecules of ATP, and two molecules of NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide).

The Krebs or the citric acid cycle is the second phase, at which point we move into the mitochondria. The pyruvate molecules created in the previous phase are oxidized inside the mitochondrial matrix during this phase. Then, through a series of additional steps, the pyruvates are broken down into 6 Co2 molecules, 4 NADH molecules (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), and two molecules of FADH2 (flavin adenine dinucleotide, a redox-active coenzyme) as well as two additional ATP molecules. 

The final phase happens through enzymes embedded in the inner membrane of the mitochondria – membrane, which is functionally dependent on copper. The electron transport chain flows through five stages. Basically, as electrons are passed along from one respiratory enzyme to the next, energy is harnessed to produce ATP. Up to a total of 36 additional ATP molecules are created.  

At the end of the process, a protein, the ATP synthase, catalyzes the final formation of the ATP molecules. ATP synthase is a nano-rotor spinning at 9,000 RPMs that produces ~3 ATP with each full rotation. Therefore, 27,000 ATP are produced by each ATP synthase every minute. Most importantly, this final complex requires the presence of BOTH magnesium and copper. 

While there is no direct way to measure exact amounts of ATP generation or in the body, scientists estimate that we produce the equivalent of our body weight in ATP every day and expend one billion ATP for each heartbeat. So we just know it happens from the inputs, outputs, and pieces we have been able to observe so far.

Not only are we outputting ATP for energy, but we also create reactive oxygen species (ROS) waste products, including free radicals. And as important as it is to generate energy, we also have to constantly manage and dispose of, as you can imagine, a massive amount of waste byproducts. It is important to remember that 90% of our energy production and waste is created and produced from our mitochondria.  

If the mitochondria are not correctly structured (for our purposes, insufficient levels of copper or magnesium), and if electrons are not adequately flowing through them, then they’re not going to activate oxygen cleanly and completely, and then we end up with more and more oxidative stress and damage. Mitigating the risk of and repairing the damage caused by this oxidative stress is the goal and premise of the Mineral Cure Diet & Lifestyle.  

In this case, two of the main culprits of oxidative stress are iron and oxygen. Oxygen inside the mitochondria is responsible for 90% of the energy and the exhaust. Oxygen takes the source materials and facilitates as much as a 70x increase in the production of ATP from cellular respiration. Thus making oxygen beyond pivotal to cellular respiration, but this comes at a cost. The cost is that oxygen also is the cause of reactive oxygen species (ROS) waste products. In an ideal environment, there is a balance and proper waste regulation. However, when there is excessive iron, or insufficient copper or magnesium, oxidative stress accumulates and becomes problematic.  

Iron serves many important functions throughout the body. For cellular respiration, iron is a transporter of oxygen. Iron is the master pro-oxidant element on planet Earth and is the principal element behind what is called oxidative stress. It’s also the trigger for the loss of magnesium that leads to chronic inflammation. You can dive more into iron 101 here.

Copper is also essential to cellular respiration as well as throughout the body. It is required for enzymes, and it is part of the structures of the mitochondria themselves. It is said that “there is no greater need for copper than in our mitochondria” (Frieden, 1985; Baker et al, 2017; Cobine et al, 2021). You can read more about Copper 101 here. Copper is also the key building block of ceruloplasmin.

Ceruloplasmin is pivotal for regulating iron, copper, and oxygen status in the body. In combination with copper, ceruloplasmin controls iron metabolism. In addition, it initiates the cell signaling pathways that help prevent oxidative stress and inflammation that iron would otherwise cause when it becomes unbound and unchecked in our cells and tissues. Ceruloplasmin provides similar protection against unchecked oxygen, i.e. mitigating the risk of oxidative stress. You can dive more into ceruloplasmin 101 here.

Last but definitely not least is magnesium: “Without enough magnesium, cells simply don’t work.” -Lawrence M. Resnick, MD, former Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School. Magnesium plays a vital role in energy metabolism because it is essential for key steps of anaerobic glycolysis and the Krebs cycle, as well as the stabilization of ATP. Read more about Magnesium 101 here.

We hope that you can start to see how pivotal and vital these minerals are to not only produce energy in the body, but also mitigate oxidative stress. If you would like to learn more about the specific sciences, feel free to visit the references through the blog and below.  

This is also a fun short video on it as well.

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