What are Neurochemicals?
Our brains are so complex that it’s simply not possible to even conceive of their intricacies. The average brain houses over 100 billion cells, each connected to thousands of other cells which create trillions of connections in your brain. The brain chemicals interact with target sites located throughout the body and brain to help regulate emotions including: fear, pleasure, anger, and joy and also help with mood, memory, concentration, energy, appetite, pain control, cravings, and sleep. These amazing tiny messengers are chemicals that link the brain and spinal cord to the body (muscles, organs and glands) and affect every cell, tissue, and system in the body. Because this is such a complex set of interactions that also integrates with the entire endocrine system many things can go wrong if it is off balance, or if you are over-stressed.
7 ways that stress causes your brain to be sick.
- Stress depletes you of precious brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, causing depression and anxiety. Serotonin is the happy brain chemical that also plays a role in mood, learning, appetite and sleep. Low serotonin is directly related to depression and anxiety and low dopamine causes a lack of zest, enthusiasm, and motivation for life and is the primary factor in addictions.
- Stress halts the production of new brain cells, which explains why when we are overly stressed we don’t always think clearly or act in our best interests.
- Chronic stress creates brain fog and emotional instability. Memory problems and a lack of concentration and focus are the hallmarks of chronic stress.
- Stress increases the radical damage in our brain. With high stress, free radicals (killer molecules) are made in surplus, which can cause normal healthy brain cells to rupture and die.
- Stress makes your brain small. Yes, you heard that right. Research continues to show that high stress halts the making of new brain cells and neuronal pathways in the brain.
- Stress increases the chances you will have Alzheimer’s and dementia. 1 in 3 U.S. seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. So we should be careful what we do to our brains to keep them protected.
- Stress can lead to a toxic waste site in the brain. Every cell in our body is sensitive to toxins, but the brain is on the top of the list when it comes to sensitivity.
How are brain chemicals affected by stress?
Everyone suffers from intermittent “blues” or feeling down, but increased-ongoing high stress can compromise the integrity of the brain’s neurotransmitter balance. Unfortunately, if this is not dealt with, it can destroy your entire sense of “well-being” over time. Here are some tips to help unscramble your brain and improve over-all healthiness to this precious organ.
Diet Habits That Cause a Brain and Mood Scramble:
- Lack of Omega 3 fats causes brain damage. Seriously. Omega-3 fats form the basic structure of all of our cell membranes. Each brain cell is connected to other brain cells though about 40,000 synapses, and it takes a “healthy cell” to communicate appropriately, which means Omega-3 and other healthy fats are needed to make a cell “healthy.” The fact is that the brain is mostly fat, this is why we need good fats to make our brain GREAT.
- Insufficient protein in the diet. Proteins are messengers for the brain and if you want a message relayed in your brain, you better have protein on board. Proteins are formed by 8 essential amino acids that we have to get from our diet, which are necessary in making our brain’s neurotransmitters that keep us emotionally and mentally balanced. Low protein will lead to you feeling sluggish, emotionally distraught, foggy, and depressed.
- A high sugar, starch, carb diet. This type of diet is associated depression, obesity, anxiety, ADD, and other mood disorders. So stop the sugar-carb train.
- Blood glucose imbalances. The rise and fall of glucose in the blood sends off stress signals in your system, which then create even more of a “crisis” and worsen the state of your brain balance.. It creates more belly fat, causes depression, leads to fatigue and irritability, and in no time will have you craving more.
- Magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is essential in making serotonin and keeping you happy. Drinking alcohol regularly, eating high sugar/processed foods, or taking certain medications can deplete your system of magnesium, creating low-level anxiety and depression.
The Fast-Track Treatment for Brain Balance.
So now it’s time to start the quick treatment plan for a better brain!
- Immediately change your diet. Start eating the following foods for at least 80% of your weekly meals.
- Food from the Ground – veggies, fruits, avocados, spouted grains
- Foods that walk around – organic beef, turkey, chicken/eggs
- Food from the Sea – mercury free fish, salmon, herring, and halibut
- Nuts and Seeds – pumpkin/flax seeds, almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts
- Stop eating sugar and starchy high glycemic junk foods and just know they are as addictive as heroin and trigger the same centers in the brain as other highly addictive drugs. Be mindful that this is a normal response the next time you find yourself downing an entire bag of your favorite junk food or chips, and can’t pull yourself away from it. Its normal, the best thing to do is just don’t have it around.
- Begin taking vitamins that nourish the brain, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids 2,000-3,000mg
- Vitamin D (take this year-round)
- Consider Ginkgo Biloba – studies have shown that this herb helps promote oxygen to the brain and improve memory and performance.
- Consider using a small amount of dark chocolate (1 oz.) in the afternoon to boost dopamine.
- Take a time out – Stop working, stop looking at your phone, stop talking on the phone, stop surfing the web, stop listening to negative people, stop filling your brain with things you can’t change (like listening, reading, or watching the news- makes me anxious just thinking about it!) Just stop and give your brain a break. It’s too much to think your brain can really take this abuse. It needs a break as often as you can give it, even 10 minutes walking outside twice daily to “re-group” is more than enough to do your brain a world of good.
- Work your body. You get to work your brain every minute of every day. Think about what an imbalance this is for your brain.
- Balance your hormones with a medical hormone expert, including stress/adrenal hormones, thyroid, and ovarian hormones. Testosterone is so amazing for the brain. It is particularly important for focus, alertness, and a positive outlook on life.
NISHA JACKSON, PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP, author of Brilliant Burnout, is a nationally-recognized hormone expert and gynecology health specialist with 20 years of experience in research and patient care. She is the founder and owner of Peak Medical Clinics.