Does Stress Cause Brain Damage?
Question for Dr. Tenney (creator of the Energy by Science product);
Dear Dr. Tenney,
I've heard that stress can affect my brain. Is this true? Can stress actually cause brain damage?
Absolutely! According to the latest science, stress even shrinks the entire brain at a faster rate than natural aging does. Science shows how stress impacts the brain and literally destroys brain tissue and even breaks down the blood-brain barrier (the very important lining that protects the brain from infectious agents). A recent Yale University study published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that those with more adverse life events had greater shrinkage of the brain in certain areas of the brain. Articles from the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that both stress and pain shrink the brain.
The two chemical substances that are on the war front of destroying your brain are cortisol and inflammation (cytokines and IL-6). Stress in its many forms, whether psychological or physiological, is capable of activating these substances that literally are at the root of eating away your brain.
Stress degenerates the brain!
This breakdown in the brain from stress in turn causes more damage to the brain by in and of itself generating more stress. It’s an ugly cycle that warrants some attention. Chronic stress not only destroys but over-activates the area of the brain called the hippocampus, causing a dysregulated circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). This furthers the stress cycle by depriving you of sleep (keeping you up at night and crashing you during the day). Chronic stress also negatively impacts the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system), dampening its ability to quiet the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system). The outcome is a perpetual state of stress.
The brain also has the ability to generate systemic inflammation as it becomes increasingly sensitive to stress, which in turn attacks the brain. This inflammation is toxic to the brain and kills brain cells! Have you ever experienced brain fog after becoming mentally fatigued?
So the evidence is clear that if you want to preserve your brain then you have to support the stress response in your body. Exercise, rest, sleep, proper diet, and stress management are some ways to help protect your brain, but you can also take certain herbs and nutrients that target stress, helping you to minimize the impact it has on your brain. Rhodiola, Korean Ginseng, Ashwagandha and Holy Basil are amongst the best herbs, and pantothenic acid (B5) along with other B-vitamins are very good at supporting the stress response and lessening its damage to your brain.