This is Your Brain on Stress

Image: Jeremy Thomas The human brain is one of your most vital organs.  It plays a role in every action and every thought, and just like the rest of your body, it needs to be taken care of.

Brain-related conditions cross all levels of society, and although “science” has come a long way in understanding how the brain works, there is still so much that we don’t know about the inner-workings of our brains.

The Brain on Stress

According to current thinking in western medicine, the brain is  the central command post for the rest of the body, and it is the “first responder” to stressors.

Unfortunately, cortisol and other stress hormones lead to chronic inflammation that negatively impacts the skin, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune and digestive systems, thus leaving the body more susceptible to the development of chronic disease.

Specific to the brain, too much stress can lead to psychological problems like:

  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • anger
  • attention-deficits
  • learning difficulties
  • depression
  • sleep disturbances
  • memory and cognitive decline

As if that weren't enough to, ironically, stress you out, studies now show that chronic stress degenerates areas of the brain involved in memory, selective attention, and executive function.

Having said all of that, it's important to remember the protective effects of the stress hormones. All stress isn't bad - sometimes it really saves our skin.

It's just that too much of a good thing can be harmful: the long-term damaging effects of the stress hormones overload and negatively impact the body and brain.

In short: chronic stress = inflammation in the brain = poor brain health.


Chronic Inflammation and Brain Health

The link between inflammation and diseases of the brain is no surprise. Higher-than-normal levels of circulating inflammatory compounds have been found in individuals with Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, mood disorders and Parkinson’s disease.

And it doesn't end with physical afflictions: Canadian researchers found that a protein known to be a marker of inflammation was up to 1/3 higher in the brains of depressed patients compared to those of healthy ones. Those with the most severe forms of depression had the most inflammation.

In short, again: inflammation in the brain = poor physical and mental health.


What is a “Leaky” Brain?

Remember that inflammation is caused by stress; whether psychological, environmental, or by dietary choices such as too much alcohol, coffee, gluten, dairy or refined sugars.

Imbalances in the gut bacteria can cause a condition called “leaky gut” making the intestines more sensitive to certain foods such as gluten. When the gut gets "leaky" because of the stress-caused inflammation, it starts to allow foreign proteins, viruses or bacteria to enter the blood stream.

Just as in the gut, destruction of the protective blood-brain barrier (BBB) can also occur from increased inflammation in the brain, making it more permeable leading to a “leaky brain."


Brain Health, aka What You Can Do About It

I'll get more into the specifics of supporting your brain in my next post, but, in general, CHILL OUT! :)

All joking aside (because there's some stress that's really, really hard to avoid), all the things you've heard about reducing stress apply here, too.

Eat healthy, whole, organic foods (mostly vegetables). Get outside and get moving every day. Try meditation. Unplug from your devices. Spend time with people you love.

Remember to sit back and enjoy your life. Your brain will thank you!