Mitochondria are more than just cell powerhouses – they also play critical roles in regulating innate immunity, cellular signaling, and programmed cell death. Additionally, they are also crucial in triggering the cell danger response (CDR), an ancient and universal response to stress, injury, or threat. The CDR prioritizes survival by activating innate immunity, and changing the gut microbiome, among other things.
However, when the CDR gets stuck in a repeating loop, it can lead to chronic disease and disability. It’s important to understand that with cellular perception and reactivity, the danger can be real or imagined. It’s all the same. Our genes are wired to treat the world as a dangerous place, and modern environmental and societal stressors can threaten cellular safety, leading to chronic illness and mental health issues. It’s time to give our bodies a break and let the healing begin.
Perception of danger leads to hypersensitivity,
while perception of safety leads to calm and healing.
Cell Danger Response – A Good Thing Gone Bad in Modern Life
An ancient survival mechanism known as cell danger response biology has major unintended consequences and implications on our health. It’s likely playing a critical role in how well you heal and why many of us are chronically ill.
The cell danger response (CDR) is an ancient and universal response to stress, threat, or injury that prioritizes the survival of multicellular organisms. Mitochondria, known as the powerhouses of our cells, play a fundamental role in regulating the CDR. Besides producing energy, mitochondria also play critical roles in regulating innate immunity, cellular signaling, and programmed cell death along with sensing and responding to changes in the cellular environment. That’s a lot of roles for one little organelle to do, but it shows just how crucial mitochondria are in the CDR, including a range of response-elements such as activation of innate immunity, withdrawal from social contact, changes in the gut microbiome, fragmented sleep, and more.
The CDR cannot be turned off until the cell receives the final “all-clear” signal, which is a mechanism designed to ensure that all threats are eliminated before the cell returns to its normal state. However, when the CDR becomes stuck in a repeating loop that blocks further healing, it can lead to long-term suffering, disability, and chronic disease. Multiple chemical sensitivity, systemic chronic inflammation, and autoimmunity are conditions that can arise when the CDR is chronically activated and not resolved properly.
Today, we should have all the elements we need to live well, such as shelter, food, and physical safety. However, the rising tide of man-made chemicals and other changes in our environment are threatening cellular safety and creating lifelong illnesses and mental health problems. Chemicals in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the products we use can trigger the CDR and keep it activated, leading to chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, and other related conditions.
It is crucial to understand the concepts of cellular perception and reactivity. Our genes are hard-wired to treat the world as a dangerous place and to anticipate a struggle to survive. “Fight or Flight” as we’ve all heard. Perception of danger leads to hypersensitivity, while perception of safety leads to calm and healing.
Cellular safety starts with organismal safety, which is determined by access to adequate shelter and nutrients for growth and repair, effective management of intercurrent infections, absence of chemical, physical, and psychological trauma, and ample opportunities for healthy play.
Children with chronic illness often grow up to be adults with chronic illness. The fraction of children living with chronic disease in the United States has risen from approximately 5-10% in the 1980s to 40% today. Rising rates of teen depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and behavioral mental health disorders add another 10-20%, meaning that 50% of teens struggle with chronic illness. Sixty percent of adults under 65 and 90% of those over have at least one chronic illness. Something is certainly wrong, and our health is the bellwether.
If you think about the CDR, it’s possible to see links between our ancient biology and modern environmental and societal stressors. Our bodies were not designed to cope with the 21st-century lifestyles we have created. Fortunately, we can take steps to reduce the activation of the CDR and promote cellular safety. By reducing exposure to chemicals and toxins, improving nutrition and sleep, managing infections, and engaging in healthy play, we can give our bodies a break and support the healing process. Additionally, functional healthcare practices that focus on conditions such as chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, and inflammaging can provide personalized approaches that aim to restore balance and promote healing.