Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you were there? We all have. It’s called having too much on your mind, or being tired, or maybe one of your medications is causing a little memory slip. For example, if you are taking Paxil for depression, Tagamet for heartburn, Ditropan for an overly active bladder, an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure, Claritin or any non-sedating antihistamine for a cold or allergy you can become forgetful. Maybe you are drinking too much alcohol? Forgetfulness can also be a sign of depression. Maybe it is just garden variety stress and anxiety over a protracted period of time?
Too be sure, stress can encumber brain function in a major way. Among other things, stress releases cortisol. Cortisol gets a lot of bad press but like all good antiheros it isn’t all bad. A little cortisol is actually good, especially when it is releasing insulin for your blood sugar maintenance, triggering your immune function, lowering your sensitivity to pain and giving you a quick burst of energy. Not so much when it causes you to take on belly fat and elevating your risk of heart disease or affecting your ability to remember things and think straight.
Initially, stress and anxiety releases adrenaline into our bloodstream, cortisol comes second. Adrenaline is largely responsible for the immediate reactions we feel when stressed. We have all had close calls driving the car and felt our hearts instantly rev to 8000 rpm, sweat to instantly pop and experienced wilder breathing. That’s adrenaline. Cortisol needs more time, minutes, rather than seconds. Releasing cortisol is a multi-phase progression involving two other hormones as well. Once our amygdala (subcortical brain structure linked to fear and pleasure responses) recognizes a threat it sends a message to the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that produces hormones that control body temperature, hunger, moods . . .) which releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) which instructs our pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which orders the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
But, and here’s the rub, adrenaline exits fast, about two minutes. Cortisol remains in your body much longer than adrenaline does which is why it has more time to negatively affect brain cells. When we stew on some problem cortisol chronically elevates, washing into the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages working memory, attention, judgment and decision making. A few days of stress is one thing, a few weeks, months or a lifestyle that causes constant cortisol release will take its toll on every aspect of your life.
The good news is that experiments based on cortisol lowering behaviors and side effect free medications like the Homeopathic Sceletium Tortuosum with neurotransmitter cofactors can reverse memory impairment and depression issues. “Ducks walk out of a lake, flap their wings and they fly off.” “When you face something stressful, particularly if it’s is likely to repeat, it will have a long term negative impact on your emotional and physical health. Don’t become attached to it. It is not noble. Like water off that ducks back, shake it off and move on with your life.”