The Implications of Constant Stress on Your Brain

stress Stress can make you feel like this.

Have you have ever experienced severe stress at some point in your life? Whether it be studying for an exam, constant money or family troubles, going through a traumatic break up, dealing with a micro-managing boss at work, either way stress is terrible. At night you may have found it difficult to switch off your mind. Anxiety and the thoughts that just won’t stop circulating through your mind keep you from sleeping. I’m sure you think you know how damaging stress can be, but you may have not realized how fatal stress is within the context of your brain.

The hippocampus is a small region in the brain that is part of the limbic system and is most commonly associated with long term memory formation and spatial navigation. Spatial navigation is the way your brain constructs a “cognitive map” to help you process and determine where you are.

There is a lot more to the adrenal glands, but this is a basic summary: The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys. The job of your adrenals are to secrete cortisol, adrenaline, and aldosterone. Cortisol and Glucocorticoids are hormones that are secreted when you are in a state of stress, when your blood sugar drops too low, when you’re in pain, when you eat foods that you have a sensitivity to (ex: you know dairy or gluten bother you but you eat them anyway). Adrenaline is signaled in a ‘fight or flight’ response. Aldosterone is a hormone that is involved in maintaining blood pressure.

There are decades of literature proving that prolonged stress or prolonged exposure to high amounts of glucocorticoids (the adrenal hormones secreted during stress) can actually cause the hippocampus to atrophy. This atrophy was observed in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Cushings Syndrome. When the hippocampus shrinks, it results in severe memory decline, which is also one of the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

the-shrinking-hippocampus-700

Another interesting two year study was conducted where primates were put in stressful social situations where they were constantly having to prove their position of dominance or power, while always being made to feel subordinate. The results of this one were shocking. The primates that were under constant stress and always having to prove their position and made to feel less than/subordinate, their neurons and hippocampus degenerated at an alarmingly rapid rate than those primates who were in a stress free environment. It was concluded that the constant exposure to glucocorticoids (or adrenal stress hormones) causes neural inflammation and degeneration, particularly so in the hippocampus. Glucocorticoids can exacerbate the rate of neuron death during normal aging, as well as the severity of neuronal damage after various neurological insults. AKA: Your brain can be aging way faster than your body depending on how much stress you are exposed to on a daily basis.

Think of this study in terms of your life. Are you in a position at work, a relationship, or some instance in your life where you are always being made to feel less than someone else? Are you always having to prove yourself worthy? Are you always having to reassure your position as top dog or good enough in some other persons eyes? If so, you need to start making plans to get out of that situation – you’re deteriorating your brain. Without your brain, you can’t do anything.

The following are some things that you can do to reduce your stress levels, inflammation and degeneration in your brain:

Take L-Theanine – This is an amino acid found in green tea that has been proven in multiple peer reviewed studies to act as a  neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing substance. In behavioral studies it was shown to relax and improve learning and memory   function. (I recommend L-Theanine by Xymogen)

 

Do Yoga – A study that compared walking vs. yoga, found a significantly greater improvement in mood and decrease in anxiety in a group of people who did yoga vs. the group of people that just walked. The yoga group also had more increased levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Another study comparing a group that did yoga for 60 minutes vs. a group that read for 60 minutes. Results were that the group who did yoga had an increase in GABA levels and it was suggested that yoga be explored as treatment for depression and anxiety disorders.

yoga

Take Methylated B Vitamins & Eating leafy green vegetables – When our bodies are going through stressful periods, we burn through our B vitamins rather quickly. Our bodies use B vitamins and folate for almost every single process in our body that creates energy. Taking B vitamins and eating leafy greens will greatly increase your energy and give your starving brain the co-factors it needs to function properly. (I recommend Methyl Protect by Xymogen.)

Take Curcumin/Turmeric & Resveratrol – Both of these are anti-inflammatory substances that can cross the blood brain barrier and dampen inflammation in the brain. Effective with the progression of conditions involving cognitive decline, and halting inflammation on a cellular level. (I recommend Turmero Active & Resvero Active by Apex Energetics.)

Take Adaptocrine – This is an adrenal support formula that has adaptogenic herbs to feed your adrenal glands the raw materials it needs to have optimal function. One of the big reasons why the brain becomes inflammed & atrophied is the constant bombardment of stress that we are exposed to every day. The stress hormones secreted by the adrenals glands wreak havoc on your brain, on your gut lining and cause leaky gut, which creates more food allergies (but that’s a whole other blog post). It is vital that you support your adrenals while going through times of stress, because they will eventually burn out, and that will send you into Adrenal Fatigue. (I recommend Adaptocrine by Apex Energetics. All supplements can be purchased from Dr. Jack’s Wellness Center.)

Be Present – Being present in each moment is a simple yet effective way to reduce your stress.  Never look at every day as the same, for every day is filled with new opportunities and beauty. If you are living in the past, you’re depressed and yearning for days that have already passed. If you’re living in worry of the future, you’ll have anxiety. If you live in the present moment and appreciate the fact that you are alive and get to experience the wonder that is your life…you will be happy.

 

I hope you enjoyed my post. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email.

 

Sources:

J Neurosci. 1989 May; 9(5):1705-11

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2000 Oct;57(10):925-35

J Altern Complement Med. 2007 May;13(4):419-26.

J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Nov; 16(11): 1145-1152

J Herb Pharmacother. 2006;6(2): 21-30.

J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2008 Jul;326(1):196-208.

Clock Image from Mohsen Paul Sarfarazi, pH. D book “It all happens in the now moment.”

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