Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) follows direct maternal inheritance and, as such, can be used in phylogenetic studies to determine a human lineage tree. The presence of common polymorphisms allows a classification of mtDNA in haplogroups and sub-haplogroups, according to the branch they belong to. Thanks to the rapidly growing number of mtDNA sequences available, this classification is being corrected and redefined to be more accurate. In parallel with this process, several studies are trying to identify an association between common mtDNA polymorphisms and common complex traits, as hypothesized by the common disease-common variant theory. Here we review the associations already reported with the main age-related complex diseases and we identify the critical points (sample size, size of the recruiting area, careful matching between cases and controls regarding geographical origin and ethnicity, data quality checking) to be taken in account in planning such studies. On the whole, this research area is opening a new perspective as an important component of "mitochondrial medicine", capable of identifying new molecular targets for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of common complex diseases.