I talk a lot about adrenal support and the effects of chronic stress on our health. I was listening to a webinar the other day about this topic and the presenter discussed the connection between the mitochondria and the adrenals. I didn't realize that the mitochondria were so important to adrenal health so I wanted to share what I learned with you!
In this post I go over what the mitochondria are, how they're involved in adrenal function, and ways to support your mitochondria.
I'll also link the presentation below if you'd like to listen!
What Are the Mitochondria?
A common way to describe the mitochondria are the "powerhouses of the cell." They're located inside the cells and are involved in making a molecule called ATP. You can think of ATP like cash. Your body absorbs glucose from food, which are like $100 bills and the process of creating ATP is like breaking that $100 into easily spendable $1 bills. ATP is like "energy currency" that's used by your muscles, nerves, enzymes, and in the production of DNA. If you want to support your body on a cellular level, then support your mitochondria.
How Are Mitochondria Involved in the Adrenals?
The adrenal glands have different layers that produce different hormones and neurotransmitters. The cortex, or outermost layer, produces aldosterone, cortisol and sex hormones. The innermost layer is called the medulla and produces neurotransmitters for our fight or flight response.
Cortisol regulation starts in the brain when it releases a hormone that signals the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol. This area of the adrenal gland contains a lot of mitochondria. The brain is where cortisol regulation starts, but the adrenal cortex is where it stops, making brain health a key piece of cortisol balance as well.
How Can You Support the Mitochondria?
Many environmental exposures, medications, infections and deficiencies can harm the mitochondria. Reducing exposures, healing infections, improving nutrient deficiency and avoiding oxidative damage can go a long way to supporting your adrenals.
Substances and lifestyle factors that harm the mitochondria:
Chemicals and pesticides
Medications for diabetes, cholesterol, pain, depression, and infections (antibiotics)
Low or high iron
Imbalanced blood sugar
The production of ATP needs oxygen, which can both help and hurt mitochondria if there is oxidative stress and free radicals. Antioxidants help to mitigate that damage so one way to support the mitochondria is to get adequate antioxidants but also to be well oxygenated.
Diet and lifestyle factors that support mitochondria:
Antioxidants - CoQ10, lipoic acid, selenium, vitamin C, polyphenols, EGCG, glutathione, NAC, curcumin
Vitamins/Minerals - magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, copper, B vitamins
Cold showers or contrast showers that activate shivering
Getting enough oxygen by having good posture, treating sleep apnea, exercise
Getting red light exposure or morning sunlight exposure to activate receptors that stimulate mitochondria
A common way to describe the mitochondria are the "powerhouses of the cell." The area of the adrenal gland that produces cortisol contains a lot of mitochondria, making them an important area to focus on when supporting the adrenals and cortisol balance. Substances that harm mitochondria include chemicals, heavy metals, infections, medications, alcohol, low or high iron status, low antioxidant status, and imbalanced blood sugar. Ways to support the mitochondria include antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, cold showers, oxygen, intermittent fasting and getting light exposure.
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Foundational Lecture: The HPA Axis. Dr. Carrie Jones. https://youtu.be/uMs50ZBa3tY
Midzak A, Papadopoulos V. Adrenal Mitochondria and Steroidogenesis: From Individual Proteins to Functional Protein Assemblies. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2016;7:106. Published 2016 Jul 29. doi:10.3389/fendo.2016.00106
Will Y, Shields JE, Wallace KB. Drug-Induced Mitochondrial Toxicity in the Geriatric Population: Challenges and Future Directions. Biology (Basel). 2019;8(2):32. Published 2019 May 11. doi:10.3390/biology8020032