Life is the interplay between structure and energy, yet the role of energy deficiency in human disease has been poorly explored by modern medicine. Since the mitochondria use oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) to convert dietary calories into usable energy, generating reactive oxygen species (ROS) as a toxic by-product, I hypothesize that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a central role in a wide range of age-related disorders and various forms of cancer. Because mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is present in thousands of copies per cell and encodes essential genes for energy production, I propose that the delayed-onset and progressive course of the age-related diseases results from the accumulation of somatic mutations in the mtDNAs of post-mitotic tissues. The tissue-specific manifestations of these diseases may result from the varying energetic roles and needs of the different tissues. The variation in the individual and regional predisposition to degenerative diseases and cancer may result from the interaction of modern dietary caloric intake and ancient mitochondrial genetic polymorphisms. Therefore the mitochondria provide a direct link between our environment and our genes and the mtDNA variants that permitted our forbears to energetically adapt to their ancestral homes are influencing our health today.