The Role of Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Anxiety
When we are addressing such complex issues with our children’s neurological health we must always circle back to the foundations of health and how imbalances there may be the root cause of our children’s symptoms. Nothing is more foundational than looking at cellular health and in particular, cellular metabolism, the ability of our cells to make sufficient energy for the tissues/organs/systems that are made of the cells to do their jobs. After all, the brain is one of the highest consumers of energy in the human body!
Although there is still a need for more research, there are many indicators that we need to look at mitochondrial dysfunction as a key link to anxiety. Given the role of the gut-brain axis in brain health, it is not entirely surprising that the gut microbiome can both be impacted by poor mitochondrial health and disruption in the microbiome can lead to poor mitochondrial health. This bi-directional link between anxiety and mitochondrial dysfunction is the topic I discuss during my interview with Trudy Scott, CN for the Anxiety Summit 5.
What is the gut-brain axis?
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication network that links the enteric, central and autonomic nervous systems. In a 2015 review article published in the Annals of Gastroenterology, the authors concluded that “Strong evidence suggests that gut microbiota has an important role in bidirectional interactions between the gut and the nervous system. It interacts with CNS by regulating brain chemistry and influencing neuro-endocrine systems associated with stress response, anxiety and memory function.”1
What are mitochondria and their role in the gut and the brain?
Mitochondria are descendants of aerobic bacteria that entered (literally and functionally) into a mutualistic partnership with ancient anaerobic microbes. “Nutrient metabolism is a function shared by both the microbiome and mitochondria. In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that the gut microbiome produces metabolites that influence mitochondrial function and biogenesis (i.e., mitochondrial replication within a cell to increase ATP production.)”2 Therefore if your child’s microbiome is out of balance (dysbiosis) then this, in turn, will negatively impact their mitochondrial function.
Mitochondria are responsible for the production of ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is the body’s energy currency. It’s used to transfer the chemical energy needed for all metabolic reactions in the body.
Mitochondria are found in every cell—from five hundred to two thousand per cell, depending on the type of tissue the cell is found in and how energy-dependent that tissue is. Mitochondria even have their own DNA. (In other words, they are important.) The mitochondria break nutrients down to produce ATP, a process that generates free radicals within the mitochondria called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Free radicals are oxidative molecules that must be neutralized by antioxidants or they damage cells and tissue. The body’s master antioxidant, glutathione, is the primary antioxidant that neutralizes reactive oxygen species to reduce oxidative damage to the mitochondria
Bottom line is if we have an imbalance of ROS and antioxidants this results in oxidative stress which impairs mitochondrial function.
What happens when mitochondria are impaired? How does this relate to symptoms of anxiety?
In the July 2019 issue of Trends in Neuroscience, a review article concludes that mitochondria are now being recognized as modulators in anxiety-related behaviour. There is a bidirectional link between mitochondria and anxiety.
Specifically, they state that: “Mitochondrial, energy metabolism and oxidative stress alterations are observed in high anxiety and conversely changed mitochondrial function can lead to heightened anxiety symptoms.”3
An increasing number of studies are revealing that several other mitochondrial-related functions, such as oxidative stress, apoptosis, neurosteroid production and mitochondrial biogenesis are also altered in individuals with high anxiety.4 A case study series published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, case study series evaluating mitochondrial dysfunction present in various psychiatric conditions including anxiety also identified how mitochondrial dysfunction is reported to be present in 70% of adult patients reporting a major psychiatric disorder and 50% of children with a mitochondrial disorder have depression.5
To learn more about this bidirectional link between mitochondrial function and anxiety, sign up now to listen to my interview with Trudy Scott, CN on the Anxiety Summit 5, where I will also discuss:
- What are the causes of mitochondrial dysfunction?
- What are the signs and symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction?
- How can you test for mitochondrial dysfunction?
- How can you address mitochondrial dysfunction and reduce my symptoms of anxiety naturally?
You can join me to learn more about this bi-directional link and what you can do about it and learn about many more anxiety experts on the Anxiety Summit 5–sign up for complimentary access now!
- The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Annals of Gastroenterology vol. 29,2 (2016): 240.
- The Microbiome-Mitochondrion Connection: Common Ancestries, Common Mechanisms, Common Goals, ASM Journals, Volume 2 • Number 3 • 27 June 2017.
- Anxiety and Brain Mitochondria: A Bidirectional Crosstalk, Trends in Neuroscience, July 27, 2019.
- Early Disruption of the Microbiome Leading to Decreased Antioxidant Capacity and Epigenetic Changes: Implications for the Rise in Autism
- The PsychiatricPresentation ofMitochondrial Disorders
in Adults,J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 24:4, Fall 2012