What’s Stress Got to Do With It?
Stress, as they say, is a killer. But why?
What they’re talking about is chronic stress is horrible for the body, not your typical stress response that occurs with an event, then ends shortly thereafter. Stress is handled by your adrenal glands that sit atop each kidney.
Cyclical stress levels are normal and necessary in order to provide neurotransmitter production for increased brain activity, increased HR and Blood Pressure and glucocorticoid production for the release of cortisol.
This cyclical stress cycle is your body migrating between your Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. The sympathetic is known as the “Fight of Flight” system and the Parasympathetic is known as the “Rest and Digest” system. Typically we want to be Parasympathetic dominant most of the time unless we need the sympathetic system to kick in. Here is an image that helps you visualize the areas that are online and offline when in a stress response aka in “sympathetic mode”. These two systems are a “push-pull” system meaning that if your’e parasympathetic, you won’t be sympathetic and vice versa. So in general, the “rest and digest” system will shut down if the “fight or flight” system is turned on.
During a stress response, blood flow is shifted from the midline of the body and the brain (away from digestion and parasympathetic regions) and towards the muscles or organs being used (think legs, arms, heart and lungs for sprinting or running away from a threat). This occurs for a shorter length of time, minutes to hours, sometimes days, then the body returns to homeostasis.
During a chronic stress response, all of the events described take place, and continue to take place as long as that stressor is still present.
Long term exposure to stress produces enormous amounts of glucocorticoids (known as Cortisol=stress hormone) and dampens the body’s Secretory IgA (or SIgA) which is the body’s and digestive system’s first line of defense. You will also have an increase in blood sugar release from the liver, which can eventually lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, inflammation, and overall cardiovascular disease.
When stress levels are high, and thus the sympathetic system is high, you will end up:
- decreasing blood flow to the digestive system
- increase blood pressure
- increase heart rate
- increase anxiety
- decrease motility
- decrease enzyme production
- decrease bile production to help with breakdown of fats
- re-route hormone production through a process called “pregnenolone steal”
- breakdown liver detoxification as well
- disrupt sleep patterns
- breakdown neurological structures responsible for memory (hippocampus)
- develop high levels of blood sugar, insulin resistance and diabetes
Now, let’s get clinical.
We’ve seen patients with mild to severe Adrenal issues stemming from chronic stress, most commonly we see anxiety, gut dysfunction, issues with sleep and autoimmunity (thyroid) as well as other mood changes. We’ve also seen some of the strangest presentations in patients with chronic stress, and if you add a concussion or infection on top of that, you’re definitely going to need our help to unwind the whole ball of functional yarn if it becomes chronic.
Now, you may be wondering what Functional Neurology (and functional medicine) might be able to do to help chronic stress, anxiety, gut dysfunction, or issues with sleep and autoimmunities, well there is a lot we can do to help.
- We begin activating the neurological systems that breakdown as a result of the chronic stress. These areas include the vagus nerve (which basically is your parasympathetic pathway), your vestibular system, and your cortical respiratory system.
- We help to dampen your stress response to certain triggers by removing those triggers, or helping to identify the triggers of your stress so you can begin to avoid them and recreate new pathways.
- We use laser therapy on your brain to decrease brain based inflammation as a result of chronic stress
- We use nutrition to help improve the function of your adrenal glands, inflammation and gut and brain function.
If you’re interested in learning more, or if you feel that “this is me” please schedule an initial evaluation with Dr. Berry or Dr. Teames and they will get you started on your road to recovery.
If you’re looking to learn more information, please consider attending one of our Health Workshops held in our office by Dr. Teames on the first Thursday each month at 6:30pm for 1 hour. Click here to view our current workshop schedule.