HPA Axis & Mitochondrial Support
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The HPA Axis – Mitochondria Connection
When faced with an acutely stressful situation, the fight-or-flight response activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Communication from the brain triggers a succession of messages all the way down to the mitochondria of adrenal cells in the zona fasciculata. This means brain health is equally as important as mitochondrial health to HPA axis function.
General HPA axis support often includes nutrients that can be depleted by stress, especially vitamins C and B. But because cortisol is produced in the mitochondria of the cells in the zona fasciculata of the adrenal glands, it’s also important to address mitochondrial health. In so many ways, mitochondrial health is the very foundation of overall health.
Fatigue is often described by patients as a lack of energy, mental or physical tiredness, diminished endurance, and the need for a prolonged recovery after physical activity. And what do most integrative practitioners think of when patients complain of fatigue? The need for HPA-axis (adrenal) support. However, fatigue is a hallmark symptom of poor mitochondrial health.
Concerns such as fatigue can be a symptom of both poor HPA axis and poor mitochondrial function which (we are learning) can’t be easily separated. We know that antioxidant support is crucial, maintaining redox balance is critical and that mitochondria need an ample supply of glutathione. We also know that many of the herbal adaptogens we use to support the HPA axis have high antioxidant activity.
Vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin, biotin, folic acid and pantothenic acid are important for metabolic pathways in mitochondrial respiration and energy production. Vitamins C, E, are effective scavengers of free radicals, helping to prevent mitochondrial oxidant formation and mitochondrial aging. But there are also free radical scavenging enzymes containing folate and niacin- Is it any wonder now why B vitamins and vitamin C are included in “adrenal and stress” formulas?
Many of the herbal and nutritional ingredients we use to support adrenal health and the HPA axis have antioxidant action, thus also supporting mitochondrial health. Additional actions have not been well researched but the association seems clear, the more we recognize this connection, and maximize this synergy to an advantage, the more rapidly effective these strategies can be.
Carrie Jones ND, FABNE, MPH is an expert on HPA-axis function. We asked Dr. Jones: “What are some of the biggest advancements you’ve seen in recent years about how we understand and address stress?”
She responded with: “It used to be that we focused on supporting the stress response and the adrenal glands with adaptogens, like herbs and B vitamins. We were focused mainly on regulating a healthy cortisol response. That’s still important, but now we’re looking at adrenal health more holistically—from the brain at the top of the hormonal cascade all the way down to the mitochondria of adrenal cells at the bottom.”
We’re very fortunate to be able to offer a new protocol from Dr. Jones, which addresses general support for the HPA axis and mitochondrial health: HPA Axis & Mitochondrial Support.
In addition to the supplements listed in these protocols, what hasn’t changed is the fact that stress-management can make a big difference in your patients’ ability to appropriately respond to stress. Activities like mindfulness-based practices, breathing techniques, movement, nature or forest-bathing, journaling, therapy, bodywork, and a healthy sleep routine still help improve outcomes.
In addition, we can help improve mitochondrial health by incorporating cold showers or cold-water plunges (especially on waking), minimizing environmental-toxin exposure, adding weight training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to the exercise routine and incorporating intermittent fasting.
At Emerson Ecologics and Wellevate, it’s our goal to keep you updated with the latest and greatest wellness protocols from renowned integrative experts.Your Wellevate account gives you access to the Wellevate Protocol Library’s full catalogue of expert protocols from today’s integrative thought leaders, including Dr. Carrie Jones.
Carrie Jones, ND, FABNE, MPH, is an internationally recognized speaker, consultant, and educator. Dr. Jones graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM), where she also completed a two-year residency in women’s health, hormones, and endocrinology. She later graduated from Grand Canyon University’s Master of Public Health program. She was an adjunct faculty member at NUNM for many years, teaching gynecology and advanced endocrinology. While in practice, Dr. Jones served as the medical director for two large integrative clinics in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Jones is board certified through the American Board of Naturopathic Endocrinology and is currently the medical director for Precision Analytical, an Oregon-based clinical laboratory that specializes in hormonal testing and reporting.