In the last decade or so, the link between mitochondria and mental health has started to emerge. But to find out how these tiny organelles (that are found inside almost every one of our cells!) can influence our mood and mental health, let’s recap what we know about mitochondria.
Mitochondria and mental health
Mitochondria are essentially at the core of energy production in the body. These tiny powerhouses provide almost every one of our 37 trillion cells with the fuel to produce ATP (energy) to power our everyday life. As an integral part of our metabolism, mitochondria combine the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe and turn this into the fuel our cells need to work and live.
How does this relate to mental health? Since they provide fuel for almost every single one of our cells, mitochondria also serve as the primary generators of ATP in the brain – helping to meet the high energy requirements of each neuron, or brain cell. Not only are they vital for energy production, but they’re also involved in many different pathways that influence mood and mental health more directly. They play a crucial role in the regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, the production of hormones like cortisol, estrogen and testosterone – and they are also central to the body’s stress response.
Brain health and how MitoQ helps
When mitochondria are functioning properly, our energy-hungry brain cells are able to perform their tasks efficiently, and protect themselves from free radical damage.
3 key ways that mitochondria influence mental health
ATP (energy) production in the brain
The brain’s energy requirements are incredibly high. Studies show that some neurons consume over 4 billion molecules of ATP every second! This complex organ takes in around 20 times more energy than the rest of the body by weight, making it vulnerable to conditions that stem from low energy availability. The primary responsibility of mitochondria is to produce ATP to provide cells with energy. If the brain is running on lower than normal levels of ATP, it may not only impact our energy levels but also our mood and emotions. Studies show that the brain needs adequate levels of ATP to support mental wellbeing, so we should never underestimate the power of fueling the body (and our cells!) adequately to support mood and mental health.
Oxidative stress and the nervous system
In the process of creating energy for cells to function, mitochondria produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), a type of free radical that can cause cell damage. In normal conditions, mitochondria have their own protective mechanisms to counteract the damage that these free radicals cause – but if they are produced in excess, it can lead to oxidative stress (aka cell stress). If left unchecked, oxidative stress can impair cell function which may reduce the production of energy and consequently, affect the central nervous system. Many studies have identified a close relationship between mental health and the brain – and consequently, interventions that work to reduce oxidative stress have revealed positive results when it comes to improving mental health outcomes.
Mitigating the stress response
Mitochondria are central to the body’s stress response. When the stress response is activated, the body triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol from mitochondria in the adrenal glands. If mitochondria aren't functioning properly, they may struggle to mitigate the body’s stress response. Studies show that a compromised stress response is closely tied to the onset of many mental health concerns. Most of us can probably reflect on a time when stress was high, and our mood or mental health was low as a result. This is because constant stress takes a toll on the body and the nervous system, which is why supporting the stress response from a cellular level is important when it comes to mental health.
There are many contributing factors that are speculated to be at the root cause of mental health concerns – but the cross-talk between mitochondria and the rest of the body is what makes our cellular powerhouses a key piece of the larger mental health puzzle.
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