By DR. TRACY McALVANAH
When stress levels go too high, the first thing many in the alternative health do is support the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop each kidney and secrete stress hormones. Popular supplements include adrenal glandulars (adrenal tissue from animals), minerals, B vitamins, and a variety of herbs — all focused on boosting the ailing adrenal glands.
Although this is a sometimes a valid approach, more often the real target for support should be the brain. The adrenal glands simply take orders from the brain to manufacture and secrete adrenal hormones such as cortisol, our primary adrenal hormone. The brain has stress pathways that sometimes need support.
When stress becomes chronic and intense, the adrenal glands flood the brain and body with too many stress hormones. This exhausts the adrenal glands and eventually they fail to make enough cortisol. When this happens you don’t have the energy to handle even mild stressors, such as a common virus or a bad day at the office. As a result, fatigue sets in and your overall quality of life diminishes.
Although the adrenal glands may need support, the best thing to do is target your brain health for stress support. This will not only help you feel better but also slow down brain degeneration. Chronic stress has been shown to literally cause the brain to atrophy or shrink. In turn, a degenerating brain stresses the body, creating a vicious cycle.
One of the first things to look at when supporting brain health is whether it is getting enough of the basic nutrients it needs, such as essential fatty acids and methyl B-12. Are you low in vital brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or GABA? Are you sending enough oxygen to the brain with good circulation, which is best boosted by exercise? Do you have anemia or blood sugar imbalances that rob the brain of good health and function?
Nutritional compounds that support healthy stress responses and target the brain include phosphatidylserine which dampens the effects of the inflammation caused by stress on the brain.
Herbs called adrenal adaptogens also have a powerful effect on stress pathways in the brain. They include Panax ginseng extract, ashwagandha, Holy basil extract, Rhodiola rosea, and eleuthero. They have a synergistic effect when used in combination — ask my office about adrenal adaptogens.
Too much stress inflames the brain, which compounds stress and ages the brain too quickly. A common symptom of brain inflammation is brain fog. If your entire body is inflamed or if you have an unmanaged autoimmune condition, it is very possible your brain is also inflamed.
Another way chronic stress promotes brain degeneration is by constricting blood vessels and blood flow, depriving the brain of oxygen.
The best way to address stress is to cut unnecessary stressors from your lifestyle. It’s also important to address lesser known factors that are still very stressful, such as poor diet, unstable blood sugar, inflammation, food intolerances, or poor circulation.
Stress is your body’s way of trying to warn you that you’re in danger and putting your well being at risk. Ask our office for ways to mitigate the effects of stress on your health and wellness.