Mitohormesis- Rebuilding Your Capacity to Produce Energy

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How can you change the Capacity of your Body to Produce Energy?

In my ReInvent Healthcare podcast episode, How To Eat To Supercharge Mitochondria, my special guest Ari Whitten revealed a startling statistic: By the age of 70, a person has lost 75% of their energy-producing capacity at the cellular level.

In other words, their mitochondria’s capacity to produce energy is only at 25% of what it was as a young adult.

What can be done to prevent this from happening?

A small dose of stress is just what the functional doctor ordered.



Hormetic stress, known as hormesis, is when short, intense exposure to potentially harmful stressors trigger a series of cellular processes that promote overall health.  It reduces inflammation, repairs DNA, fights disease, slows aging, and ensures future resiliency.

Although still not well understood, science is pointing to hormetic stress as a viable way to maintain or restore the body’s ability to produce the energy so necessary to overall health and vitality, particularly if a person is looking to increase their health-span, not just their lifespan.

This is especially true when applied to mitochondrial health.


Mitohormesis and Improved Mitochondrial Function

When the concept of hormesis is applied specifically to the mitochondria, it’s referred to as mitohormesis. In recent years, research has focused on the effect of low-level stress on the mitochondria with interesting results.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) is a free radical that is created when the mitochondria produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy cells require to function. When ROS production exceeds the body’s ability to neutralize it, the result is oxidative stress which is associated with a variety of diseases including diabetes and cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

However, at the low stress levels resulting from mitohormesis, instead of causing oxidative damage, ROS acts as a signaling molecule that upregulates antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes which ultimately lowers levels of excess ROS. In addition, this mechanism improves metabolism and immune response, increases mitochondrial biogenesis and antioxidant defenses, augments the cytoprotective response, and promotes mitophagy. 

Mitohormesis can result in both mitochondrial and non-mitochondrial adaptations that return and maintain cellular homeostasis which benefits both short and long-term health.


How Much Is Too Much?

Some experts now believe that if you don’t expose yourself to enough hormetic stress it’s impossible to achieve optimal health and well-being. But how much and what kind of stress qualifies as beneficial is as individual to a person as their “best” diet. 

Research has shown high intensity interval training (HIIT), intermittent fasting, intermittent hypoxia, and exposure to hot and cold temperature extremes will elevate ROS levels resulting in beneficial mitohormesis.  At the same time, any one of these things done to excess could cause harm.

The one exception to this rule is the consumption of polyphenols.



Xenohormesis is a biological principle that explains how environmentally stressed plants produce protective, bioactive compounds that can pass on stress resistance and survival benefits to the animals that consume them. 

Polyphenols are a group of phytochemicals closely associated with plant stress and known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  When eaten, they trigger hormesis and mitohormesis which contributes to overall health and longevity.

One of the most promising and well-researched xenohormetic polyphenols is resveratrol. Commonly found in grape skins, blueberries, cranberries and dark chocolate, resveratrol protects the plant itself by reducing UV damage and eliminating pathogenic molds.

When eaten, studies show that resveratrol activates the same pathways as calorie restriction. It protects against free radical damage, inflammation and the diseases associated with both.

Polyphenols may be the one form of stress you can’t get too much of!


Spreading The Word

Ari and I agree hormesis isn’t talked about nearly enough. It is one of those things that can be easily incorporated into a person’s life at little to no cost yet provide maximum benefits that are proven to extend health-span.

One of the best things a functional healthcare practitioner can do for their client is share the kind of information that empowers them to make decisions that support their best health.

That is a primary focus of my Nutritional Endocrinology Practitioner Training program (NEPT). Knowledge is power, and what is more powerful than helping others take back control of their health?

If you are tired of the broken, disease-focused system that makes it nearly impossible to support those looking for real answers to difficult health challenges, I encourage you to check out NEPT. It’s the change we so desperately need.

Xenohormesis: Sensing the Chemical Cues of Other Species – PMC
Mitohormesis, an Antiaging Paradigm – PubMed
Mitohormesis: Promoting Health and Lifespan by Increased Levels of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) – PMC
Mitochondrial Toxins and Healthy Lifestyle Meet at the Crossroad of Hormesis – PMC
Less Can Be More: The Hormesis Theory of Stress Adaptation in the Global Biosphere and Its Implications – PMC


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