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Mitochondria: Your Battery Pack for Thyroid, Adrenals and Stress Tolerance

Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition


Do you ever wonder why you feel fatigued and have dry skin, increased cholesterol, poor mood, and constipation, but thyroid labs are normal? Maybe you have tried various ways to augment thyroid hormone levels and activity. While this may have helped for a while, you find that more is needed or symptoms are still there.


Thyroid health is more than just hormone levels being in the normal range. Thyroid hormone metabolism is directly linked with mitochondrial vitality. Mitochondria are your cellular “Energizer Bunnies” and their battery power has a make-or-break effect on your thyroid metabolic energy and adrenal stress tolerance. Learn how to recharge your mitochondria and energize your health.


Thyroid Metabolism: The Basics


The immediate formation of thyroid hormone relies on the amino acid tyrosine and the trace mineral iodine. Other minerals like selenium, manganese, zinc, and iron are involved with the conversion of T4 into activated T3 hormone and the transport into cells throughout your body. In addition, vitamins A, D, and several B vitamins, along with protein, calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients are required to utilize thyroid hormone within cells.


Read more about thyroid nutrition:

Nutritional Tips for Thyroid Health

Help Keep Your Thyroid Nourished

What’s Your Iodine Status?


The Thyroid-Adrenal Connection


The next step in thyroid health relates to your adrenal glands and nervous system as they directly affect thyroid hormone levels. The command center in your brain sends signals to the adrenals and thyroid where they “talk” to each other and affect hormone output. This is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid axis (HPAT).


A Deeper Connection: Mitochondria, T3 Hormone, and Adrenals Hormones


In every organ, with the exception red blood cells, are thousands of mitochondria. They are the batteries of your body that produce the energy molecule called ATP. They have a reciprocal relationship with thyroid and adrenal hormone activities.


Inside each mitochondrion are receptor sites for T3 thyroid hormone. The amount of T3 hormone received inside mitochondria sets the metabolic pace for energy production.


At the same time, mitochondrial activity also sends signals to the thyroid gland for hormone production, usage, and metabolism. It is an ongoing loop of activity between T3 inside mitochondria and mitochondria influencing T3 thyroid hormone production and uptake in the thyroid gland. In this healthy homeostatic state, low levels of reactive oxygen species and other free radicals are produced and compensated for.


In addition, adequate and balanced cortisol, DHEA, and other adrenal steroid hormone levels are required for mitochondrial function. Healthy mitochondria are also essential for adrenal gland function and hormone production.


Stress, Energy, and Thyroid Health


During times of acute stress, adrenal hormones add a burst of energy to your metabolic rate. This helps you deal with the immediate short-term crisis. It’s like a jolt of caffeine or gasoline on a fire as it wakes you up and stimulates release of energy. The acute stress produces a burst of mitochondrial activity which in turn increases the output of free radicals and oxidative stress. Antioxidant activity and needs momentarily increase.


As stress calms down, free radicals and cortisol levels decline back to normal. Thyroid hormone output maintains status quo and mitochondria autophagy or repair occurs. Mitochondrial battery levels are maintained. Cellular and hormone homeostasis is returned.


If the stress is ongoing, this mitochondrial-thyroid-adrenal balance changes. Any type of chronic or overwhelming stress, real or perceived, signals the adrenal glands to release increased amounts of cortisol and other stress hormones. This shunts a portion of thyroid hormone T4 into reverse T3 (rT3).


rT3 is not as metabolically active as T3 inside cells. This reduction of T3 inside cells adversely affects mitochondrial activity and its own reciprocal contribution to T3 production. In addition, higher levels of free radicals and oxidative stress occur within mitochondria and cells. This combination leads to fatigue, sluggish bowels, increased cholesterol production, and depression.


More information may be found in the article Grumpy and Exhausted? Support Your Mitochondria, Brain, Adrenals.


Mitochondria are the Batteries of Your Body


Mitochondrial activity and its ATP production are like tens of thousands tiny batteries in your cells and organs. When mitochondria are healthy and in high numbers from youth and physical activity, your energy levels and vitality are high and plentiful, like a battery fully charged.


With age, sedentary lifestyles, medications and anesthesia, acute and chronic infections, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, mold exposure, high stress, excessive exercise, high sugar, high fat diets and low plant-based antioxidant intake, etc., mitochondria become injured and lessen in number. Your mitochondria total battery strength declines.


T3 Supply Affects Cellular Tempo and Mitochondria Battery


When more thyroid hormone is supplied, it gives a boost to T3 thyroid hormone levels. This accelerates the rate at which mitochondria work. The result is improved energy, mental clarity, and body heat. Your body’s metabolic metronome activity or tempo speeds up. This boost in function can go on for days, weeks, or longer. If your mitochondria are healthy and you have great physical activity tolerance, then this is a win-win situation.


If you have enough thyroid hormone for your metabolic metronome but the mitochondrial battery power is drained, then you can still have all kinds of symptoms. You may feel fatigued, chilled, have brain fog, weight gain, constipation, muscle cramps, feel easily winded and have poor exercise tolerance.


If more thyroid hormone is added again, the process is repeated with increased energy by forced mitochondrial stimulation. Over time, this “honeymoon period” again declines and mitochondrial battery power is further depleted. You may feel worse with more T3 support.


As mitochondrial battery power declines over time, oxidative stress and free radical levels increase and metabolism becomes inefficient. Thyroid metronomic metabolic activity slows and so often does adrenal hormone production. It affects all parts of your body as you experience age-related decline and increased difficulties in managing cholesterol and blood sugar, brain energy, mood, concentration, memory, gut motility, temperature tolerance, and diminished exercise tolerance.


Research shows that as mitochondrial activity declines, there is progressive failure of your thyroid and its ability to function. It also opens the door for autoimmune inflammatory reactions in the thyroid. Your goal is to protect your mitochondria and help them recharge.


Mitochondrial Biogenesis – Exercise


You can make new mitochondria, i.e. mitochondrial biogenesis through physical activity and nutrition. Exercise is the best way of making new mitochondria. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is considered the fastest, most efficient method of exercise that promotes the birth of new mitochondria. Other forms of exercise with weight training, endurance, sprints, moderate intensity, and other training types also support mitochondrial biogenesis. Ongoing regular exercise with variety of activities is essential for making new mitochondria.


Start any exercise program gradually. If you are not able to exercise, start with very small increments of walking a few more steps in the house, standing a bit longer, and lifting a one-pound weight with multiple repetitions a few times each day. Find something that you can do and build on it.


Mitochondria Biogenesis – Nutrients and Diet


Several nutrients found in a healthy diet and supplements also support mitochondrial biogenesis. These include PQQ,astaxanthincurcumin,resveratrol, acetylcholine, tangeretin, melatonin, and rhodiola.


A diet high in sugar and fat impairs mitochondrial biogenesis, induces oxidative stress, and adversely changes mitochondrial structure.


Several nutrients are also vastly integral to mitochondrial function and your battery power energy reserves. These include coenzyme Q10, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3) and NADH, lipoic acid, carnitine, vitamin C, vitamin E, arginine, creatine, cysteine/NAC and others.


These cofactors and antioxidants help protect mitochondria from free radical stress. They are critically essential for the cellular machinery inside mitochondria to make ATP and charge your physiological batteries. Rest and sleep are also vital to recharging your mitochondrial reserves.


We have seen that mitochondrial health and vitality is critical for so many things. Immune health,cartilage and joints, mood and brain,heart,lung,muscles,skin, and other tissues in your body are greatly impacted by the health and vitality of mitochondria. Thyroid gland and hormone function are also deeply dependent upon this battery pack. Make sure your mitochondrial batteries are charged and protected before