Brain Nutrition and Protection During Times of Change and Stress
One bitter legacy of the 20th century and the industrial age is the enormous amount of environmental pollution, additives and chemicals to which people were, and still are, exposed. In addition to this plague of oxidative stress and free radical damage, emotional stress caused by rapidly changing life situations can produce an excess of glucocorticords in the brain. The glucocorticords in normal quantities help mobilize the body in a “crisis situation”. In excess they can be damaging.
According to Dr. Michael Meaney and the Institute for CorTexT R&D, “stress can accelerate the pace of brain aging and can result in the loss of neuronal function and even the loss of brain cells. These effects are more serious in older individuals. The evidence indicates that one class of stress hormones, the glucorticoids, can produce cognitive deficits in aged animals. In humans, the story seems to be quite similar.
Glucocorticoids compromise the function of neurons in the cortex and hippocampus, brain regions which are of critical importance for learning and memory (particularly for the acquisition of new information). Damage in these areas in humans and other animals results in seriously impaired intellectual function. Neurons function and communicate with other neurons via electrochemical processes. Neurotransmitters act on other neurons and change the electrical potentials of these cells. When cells are excited (electrically, that is) they fire and it is the cumulative effect of hippocampal and cortical cells firing that leads to new learning. High levels of glucocorticoids which occur in response to stress inhibit the excitation of these cells, and in doing so impair new learning. This can occur in anyone of any age. But the effects are more severe in the elderly - the impairment is worse, and it can last for a longer period of time. Chronic stress, with exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids, for a sufficiently long period of time can cause permanent impairments in the function of these cells - leading to permanent impairments in learning."
Exposure to elevated glucocorticoid levels for a sufficiently long period of time, especially in the aged, can lead to the loss of hippocampal neurons. this effect appears to be due to the accumulation of toxic levels of calcium in these neurons as well as a depletion of the energy stores necessary for normal cellular function. Glucocorticoids inhibits the ability of the hippocampal neurons to take up energy substates from circulation. When exposed to excitatory signals, these cells are then compromised since they do not have the necessary energy reserves to meet demands. Indeed, this process is relevant not only for aging, but also for hypoxia-ischemic damage. When damage occurs to the hippocampus, either from stroke, aging or other form of insult, there are accompanying deficits in learning and memory." It also interferes with the ability to respond during threats or emergencies.
According to a study published in the journal Science, major emotional upheaval can generate changes that damage the brain -- specifically the hippocampus, which is responsible for complex memory. Separate studies of patients with severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a condition called Cushing's Syndrome all showed high levels of glucocorticords.
In today’s stress-filled world, there is now a strong focus on maintaining physical health, but also an ever- growing realization that brain health is subject to aging, stress and depletion of neurochemicals so necessary for optimum functioning of the brain and the endocrine system, especially under conditions of stress and fatigue.