When the Brain is on a Crash Course: Adrenal Fatigue, Stress Responses, & Blood Sugar Regulation
Source: PIXOLOGICSTUDIO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images
written by Jennifer Coomes CN, E-RYT
We're back at more brain rejuvenation with a new chapter on learning what happens when the brain is on a crash course due to adrenal fatigue, unbalanced stress responses, and blood sugar imbalances. I always like to pull from my own experiences as I try to teach a new thing, so this is no different. Truth be told, I've been enamoured with my study of functional neurology because it's so critical to my existence after bouts of PTSD, a car accident, and after a recent diagnosis of breast tissue changes that are taking me through mammograms and an upcoming MRI and possible biopsies. I'm the subject of this story, but I also hope that you will gain some really profound and grounding knowledge on how to apply these concepts to your life as you seek the needed answers to your symptoms that are causing you not to feel well and at your optimal health. My war with stress ramped up a few years ago as my body was having heightened stress responses that were leading to extreme irritability and trigger responses due to a rape I suffered in November 2006. I've also had a strong history of child abuse, and when the PTSD started to debilitate my life after the rape, I found myself struggling with performance, poverty, emotional balance, extreme bullying and oppression, professional setbacks, and broken relationships. Most of this was due to outside circumstances happening, but what really affected me was my response to those circumstances, because it had deeply affected my coping responses and resilience. Essentially, I've been in serious cycles of poverty and stress for ten plus years, but the last few years gave me the message that my body could no longer handle the stress it was under and the way I was coping with the outside world. My brain started crashing among other things. If you've ever experienced a strong pivot point in your life, then you'll want to keep reading to learn more about what happens to the brain in circumstances like these. After a recent diagnosis at the breast center telling me that I needed two breast biopsies, I asked a ton of questions of the doctor and then later with the nurse, I sat there and just cried. What had I done to create this? I had known about fibrocystic cysts because I had a history of them from my mother, but I had spent years modifying my diet as a nutritionist to take out the major culprits related to food and had mostly a very clean diet. Even my hormones were not telling me a story that would lead to these breast changes, yet I'd been feeling them for months which led me to gear up for the needed screening mammogram. After diagnosing me with these breast tissue changes two mammograms and an ultrasound later, the doctor and I talked more about my recent car accident and PTSD related to rape recovery. She mentioned that stress is a KEY FACTOR in breast tissue changes and really changes in health overall. So, there you have it, when everything else is stable, the one thing that holds us together or will make it all fall apart is STRESS. The sooner we start to get a handle on STRESS, the sooner we can do something about how we live and save our lives for something better. Stress was something I knew about well. I had been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, PTSD, and the post concussion syndrome I was experiencing was leaving me feeling like I was either an older or disabled version of my vibrant myself. I had spent years and months tearing down PTSD to discover that PTSD is not just a psychological condition, but also metabolic and neurological condition. I've been spending months educating the medical and justice system on these realities, so when I came across my Functional Neurology course in my doctorate program, I was blown away with the simple fact that I was learning more about where my symptoms were coming from than I had ever learned in all the years before. I nearly fell off my chair when I was listening to lecture and my professor would speak about these symptoms that NO ONE in my medical team could explain and then would tell me the cause of them from a Functional Neurology perspective. I was just shocked and I had to listen and relisten to what I was hearing to make sure I heard it right. Sometimes, life is just that much of a miracle. The best answers just might come when you least expect it, so make sure you're listening!
Simply, stress causes changes in blood sugar regulation, in your hormones, in how your brain responds in movement and emotions, in your sleep patterns, in your energy levels throughout the day, and in your ability to manifest disease.
The Basal Ganglia
This might be a set of words you've never heard of in your life, but they could be the key to your existence and how you regain your health. My physical therapist has been working on calming my sympathetic nervous system response with the post concussion syndrome and PTSD I've been diagnosed with. The PTSD had caused serious surges up through my neck at through the base of my skull and in the middle of the night, I would be woken up with "explosion" like experiences that would then trigger tachycardia (fast heart rate), high blood pressure, and give me a sense of either having had a stroke or heart attack. These have never been welcome experiences, but after getting to the ER on a number of occasions, the staff couldn't find evidence of either of these issues. Labs were mostly normal except for when I would run my Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis and find core deficiencies in B1, B6, B12, Folate, and Zinc. Further analysis would also indicate that I was in metabolic acidosis often in these PTSD events.
Metabolic acidosis is a state of having the pH of the blood be too low which can affect breathing, blood health, insulin resistance, and more. In serious metabolic acidosis, you're in the ER because it is a serious event. In every day terms, chronic metabolic acidosis can lead to Metabolic Syndrome, which can then be a precursor for Type 2 Diabetes. PTSD mimics Metabolic Syndrome, and those with chronic PTSD are at a higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes. As mentioned in my last post on the brain, Type 3 Diabetes is also called Alzheimer's Disease.
So, needless to say, getting some measure of control over this stress response is important. Where does the basal ganglia come in? Well, the basal ganglia is the part of our brain that helps deal with the larger and more refined elements of movement, thought, and emotion. We have two pathways of communication in the basal ganglia, either a direct or indirect pathway. The direct pathway is more involved in our gross or larger physical movements, thoughts and emotional responses. The indirect pathway is involved in the specificity of these movements to make them more refined and focused. At times, this indirect pathway will shut off or inhibit the direct pathway in the basal ganglia so that this more specific movement of physical limbs, thoughts, and emotions can happen. Think of the indirect pathway of communication in the basal ganglia like your more mature self. It helps you walk or act in life like you know what you are doing and think and feel at a level that is appropriate for the situation that you are in. These pathways are regulated by Dopamine and GABA, so if you have symptoms affecting these areas, it could be rooted right here in these responses in your brain.
The communication goes from the basal ganglia to the motor cortex in the brain to enact those messages from the basal ganglia, and then the messages from the motor cortex to the cerebellum will even refine those physical, mental, and emotional movements even more. It's like making revisions to paper, or a book, or practicing a play until it's perfect, or even a new version of an I-phone that refines on what was done before. You need all of these elements working properly so that YOU work properly. So, what happens when things don't work the way they should? This is our stress conversation. Usually, when the stress response affects the brain to such a degree that you begin to notice problems like anxiety, PTSD, physical movement and gait concerns, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other nervous system issues, it's a sign that there are problems in the indirect pathway of communication in the basal ganglia. The brain has shut down the function of the refinement of your physical, mental, and emotional movement and has created dysfunction that disrupts your life. This is what was happening to me, and when my physical therapist started to have a conversation with me about the basal ganglia and my overactive sympathetic nervous system responses, it was at the same time I was learning about in my Functional Neurology doctorate study. So, this was such a lightbulb turning on for me. I was experiencing these strong spasms in my neck accompanied by the surging rooting from the visceral areas right under my sternum from the chest contusion and inflammation. My physical therapist had explained this as related to my sympathetic nervous system responses, and that by calming the messaging to the nervous system by focusing on one focused movement in a plane rather than gross and large movements, I could start to retrain the basal ganglia responses. I couldn't push it or force it. I had to listen and retrain the body. When we are having these huge stress responses, it can be related to the amount, quality, and amplitude of hormone and brain responses.
Our stress response problems can be rooted in cortisol, GABA, and dopamine responses. It can be related to blood sugar regulation issues like reactive hypoglycemia when we don't eat consistently or take in glucose foods when we need it. It can be related to our inability to control the refinement of our physical, mental, and emotional movements. When we can't control our emotions, thoughts, and physical movements, we experience ourselves in the world as a lesser version of ourselves. It can also affect memory, sleep, and rational behavior. If we don't fix our response to stress, we can build patterns in our brain that will lead to disease and degeneration. You want to start NOW to get better brain health.
I say this to you now because it has taken years for me to understand the heart and roots of why I was suffering so much and why I could no longer cope in a healthy way. After 14 years, I had finally made the decision to turn in the man who raped me, only to be received seven months later with a lack of justice in the case and more poverty. Yet, one month later, I started my doctorate program in Functional Nutrition. I was still dealing with debilitating PTSD. I was broken inside and out. I was having tremendous time focusing and I would push myself harder because I felt I needed to prove myself after the setbacks of the past. I was incredibly hard on myself and let me tell you, that didn't really stop the world from being hard on me. Months later, I was in a car accident that may have ended up saving my life rather than taking it away. Then months later, I was diagnosed with these breast tissue changes that made me dig even harder into the answers I so needed to bring myself back to life. I wasn't willing to give up just because life was hard, but I knew that I couldn't surrender to the darkness of these symptoms that stress had given to me. What I learned in my study of Functional Neurology has played a role in saving my life. Physical therapy has been doing the same. It can change. I want you to feel that if you are suffering that you too can save your life by getting help. You don't have to keep suffering. There are answers. I can't promise you that it will change overnight. I can't promise that you will get all of your answers here in this post, but it could be the start of a journey to thriving that you don't want to miss.
I encourage you, if you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to your brain, nutrition, and wellness, that you make an appointment with me at Essence Health and Research for a Clinical Nutrition Evaluation. Take a moment and make the choice to start your recovery. It could be the best choice you've ever made and I look forward to meeting you on the path. Look below for options if you are ready to take a step forward. Take care of yourself and talk to you soon!
Please look at the Clinical Nutrition services below for more information on Essence Health and Research services and reach out to Jennifer Coomes CN, E-RYT for an appointment here!
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Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis (FBCA)
An FBCA helps to let you know more about vitamin, mineral, and macronutrient deficiencies based on your most recent blood labs from an annual physical or doctor's appointment. It will also tell you more about organ function and possible health conditions that can be reversed if addressed early. This is an excellent place to start for learning more about brain health! This service can be done virtually, by phone, or in person.
Clinical Nutrition Evaluation and Follow Up Visits
A Clinical Nutrition initial evaluation will include your FBCA and if you buy a package, it will also include follow up visits depending on the package you buy. This is the best option for someone who really needs a full Clinical Nutrition assessment that includes a functional nutrition approach along with vitals, biometrics/body composition assessment, diet assessment, stress assessment, nutritional planning and more. This service can be done in some parts virtually, but it is highly recommended to come in person for the initial evaluation for the full service.
Trauma Nutrition 12 Week Unlimited Visit Program
This Clinical Nutrition program is for anyone who has a history of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma or mood disorder (anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc) along with medical conditions and food concerns. This is an unlimited visit 12 week program with Jennifer Coomes CN, E-RYT to help fully evaluate medical conditions and trauma with an established nutrition program and in depth Clinical Nutrition mentorship to ensure results. The FBCA, Clinical Nutrition evaluation, Clinical Nutrition follow up visits, and Restorative Yoga is included in this package/program.