Re-Evaluating the Oxidative Phenotype: Can Endurance Exercise Save the Western World?
Mitochondria are popularly called the "powerhouses" of the cell. They promote energy metabolism through the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and oxidative phosphorylation, which in contrast to cytosolic glycolysis are oxygen-dependent and significantly more substrate efficient. That is, mitochondrial metabolism provides substantially more cellular energy currency (ATP) per macronutrient metabolised. Enhancement of mitochondrial density and metabolism are associated with endurance training, which allows for the attainment of high relative VO2 max values. However, the sedentary lifestyle and diet currently predominant in the Western world lead to mitochondrial dysfunction. Underdeveloped mitochondrial metabolism leads to nutrient-induced reducing pressure caused by energy surplus, as reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH)-mediated high electron flow at rest leads to "electron leak" and a chronic generation of superoxide radicals (O2-). Chronic overload of these reactive oxygen species (ROS) damages cell components such as DNA, cell membranes, and proteins. Counterintuitively, transiently generated ROS during exercise contributes to adaptive reduction-oxidation (REDOX) signalling through the process of cellular hormesis or "oxidative eustress" defined by Helmut Sies. However, the unaccustomed, chronic oxidative stress is central to the leading causes of mortality in the 21st century-metabolic syndrome and the associated cardiovascular comorbidities. The endurance exercise training that improves mitochondrial capacity and the protective antioxidant cellular system emerges as a universal intervention for mitochondrial dysfunction and resultant comorbidities. Furthermore, exercise might also be a solution to prevent ageing-related degenerative diseases, which are caused by impaired mitochondrial recycling. This review aims to break down the metabolic components of exercise and how they translate to athletic versus metabolically diseased phenotypes. We outline a reciprocal relationship between oxidative metabolism and inflammation, as well as hypoxia. We highlight the importance of oxidative stress for metabolic and antioxidant adaptation. We discuss the relevance of lactate as an indicator of critical exercise intensity, and inferring from its relationship with hypoxia, we suggest the most appropriate mode of exercise for the case of a lost oxidative identity in metabolically inflexible patients. Finally, we propose a reciprocal signalling model that establishes a healthy balance between the glycolytic/proliferative and oxidative/prolonged-ageing phenotypes. This model is malleable to adaptation with oxidative stress in exercise but is also susceptible to maladaptation associated with chronic oxidative stress in disease. Furthermore, mutations of components involved in the transcriptional regulatory mechanisms of mitochondrial metabolism may lead to the development of a cancerous phenotype, which progressively presents as one of the main causes of death, alongside the metabolic syndrome.