Effects of Stress and Mitochondrial Health

// Mathieu Bouchard and Corey Schuler, MS, DC, CNS


Effects of Stress and Mitochondrial Health

Stress, if harnessed properly, can be of great assistance, but if you lose control, the effects of stress can easily become your worst enemy. Stress is known to affect all systems in the human body by influencing a large array of functions through its effect on chemical messengers like cytokines. Stress hormones may also affect mitochondria.

 Consistently elevated cortisol will have profound effects on thyroid function, glycemic control, and immune system response which will inevitably affect additional systems and mitochondrial health.Mitochondria are the power house of virtually every cell in the body and they generate approximately 90% of the body’s energy in the form of ATP and also are key regulators of cell survival and death. This important cell structure has the capacity to regenerate, known as mitochondrial biogenesis, but unrelenting stress may mitigate mitochondrial biogenesis. Repeated stressors may promote further challenges to the stress-response system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When cortisol is produced in sufficient enough amounts, retro-inhibition or a feedback mechanism occurs, but in some cases the retro-inhibition does not occur. Consistently elevated cortisol will have profound effects on thyroid function, glycemic control, and immune system response which will inevitably affect additional systems and mitochondrial health.

Consistent and repeated stressors affect glucose levels and the action of insulin, and promoting glucagon via secretion of catecholamines, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, and the glucocorticoid cortisol. Glucagon signals the liver to breakdown stored glycogen into glucose. Even though this process can be healthy and necessary, it can be associated with functional mitochondrial changes through consistent and repeated effects. Superoxide production is a normal by-product of mitochondrial function and while it is a highly reactive molecule categorized as a reactive oxidative species (ROS),1,2,3 its presence is normally negated with free radical scavengers. ROS when insufficiently scavenged can affect mitochondrial function.5,6,7

In my practice I frequently encounter people who have improved mood as a goal. Even though there is often no easily-identifiable psychological contribution to their case, I can still help. I use the following ideas to support the body’s tolerance to stress:

  • Regulate circadian rhythm and promote sleep8
  • Dietary advice that supports stable energy like a variety of vegetables, fibers, essential fatty acids, and moderate protein intake11
  • Regular intense exercise (if the person is able too) and exercise with resistance9
  • Avoid processed foods and minimize the intake of fructose to under 25 grams per day10
  • Herbs that are classified as adaptogenic14,15
  • Adding spices and flavorful herbs to the diet4,12,13
  • Weight loss, if indicated, may result in improved stress response

Energy and overall health status depend of the function of mitochondria, and even if the body can replace faulty or damaged mitochondria, it is best to promote a healthy stress response physically and psychologically.

Mathieu Bouchard and Corey Schuler, MS, DC, CNS

After starting his adventure in the fitness industry, Mathieu Bouchard is now working at his own clinic in Montréal, Québec. He is the founder of Institut AAT, a continuing education institute supporting trainers, naturopaths, and other health-related professions. He is also a graduate of Functional Medicine University.

Corey Schuler is the Director of Clinical Affairs for Integrative Therapeutics. He is a certified nutrition specialist, licensed nutritionist, and chiropractic physician board-certified in clinical nutrition. He has earned degrees in nursing and phytotherapeutics, and has a private integrative medicine practice in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Dr. Schuler is an adjunct assistant professor at the School of Applied Clinical Nutrition at New York Chiropractic College. He volunteers for the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists and is a member of Institute for Functional Medicine, American College of Nutrition, and American Nutrition Association. He has conducted dozens of national seminars, media, and podcast interviews including CBS-WCCO and other radio stations, Intelligent Medicine, Underground Wellness, Five to Thrive Live, Aging but Dangerous, Rebel Health Tribe, and countless online summit appearances. He is on the board of directors for the International Probiotics Association and an advisor to Functional Medicine University.

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