Chronic Stress and its effect on the brain
Did you know that anxiety is one of the most common “pre-existing conditions” that people suffer with prior to developing post concussion syndrome? It’s true. More than 90% of the patients we see with PCS symptoms had high levels of stress or anxiety leading up to the moment they injured their heads. Think about that for a minute. If you are “stressing out” or have anxiety, you’re at an increased risk for post concussion syndrome. (In addition to anxiety, we find that chronic stress, inflammation, gut pathology and autoimmunity are other main contributors to PCS-which we will cover later)
Stress is everywhere. Social media, friends, family, work, internal, your thoughts, past traumas, future events, unknown circumstances, the news, stress is everywhere!
Today’s stress is a different kind of stress. In addition to the above mentioned stressors, when you think “stress” do you think about toxicity and chemicals as a form of stress? Roundup, glyphosate, GMOs, exhaust fumes, chemicals in our lotions, sunscreens, soaps, materials that surround us at home, EMFs, bluetooth, cell towers, and our food and water sources? These are all forms of stress to the body.
The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as “The body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.”
There is normal stress and there is abnormal stress. Short term stress is normal as we encounter challenges throughout the day and we adapt to them. Abnormal stress is when the stress response remains elevated and becomes chronic.
The stress response releases multiple neurochemicals: Cortisol, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine. Cortisol is designed to release blood sugar from the liver so your skeletal muscle can use it immediately to help you run away from danger. It can dampen your memory (hippocampus) also. Cortisol is also designed to be anti-inflammatory in the short term. Notice I said “is designed to be short term”. In the long term, or chronic state, Cortisol is highly detrimental to your health.
When cortisol is elevated chronically:
- Inflammation rises
- Your adrenals become exhausted
- Your sex hormones become imbalanced
- Your sleep cycles and energy suffer (cortisol and melatonin abnormalities)
- You begin gaining weight
- Your memory worsens
- Your digestion suffers
- Your immune system in your brain goes on high alert
- Your gut lining breaks down
- Your brain barrier breaks down
- You develop acne, rashes, etc
- You develop a startle response
- And many more
Epinephrine and Norepinephrine (aka adrenaline and noradrenaline) are designed to increase peripheral blood pressure to help shunt blood towards your running skeletal muscles, it increases your blood pressure, respiration rate, heart rate, perspiration rate, dilates your pupils, enhances your reticular activating system (think brain-awakening system), and as the majority of your blood is directed towards your muscles to “fight or flight”, it shunts away from vital areas like your gut and vital brain centers and towards your reflexogenic brain systems. Phew! That was a long breath.
Unfortunately, chronic stress is commonplace in today’s society.
One of the things we find with stressed patients is that they also have anxiety and vica versa. At this point we don’t know which is the chicken or the egg. It is important to understand which caused what, but now we have a whole system involved, and we aren’t just dealing with stress or anxiety by themselves anymore.
When evaluating the system, we must assess the neurological system to see what neurological systems are mis-firing to create your symptoms, and what your physiology is doing. We will run saliva testing for stress hormones, blood testing for food sensitivities, leaky gut, infection and genetic markers, as well as stool and urine testing to determine the health of your gastrointestinal microbial makeup and oxidation and detoxification markers for your mitochondrial health.
If you are currently under chronic stress, have GI issues, anxiety or other symptoms mentioned above, please consider contacting our office for our
comprehensive neurological and metabolic workup.