Hormones and neurotransmitters, how they intimately interact with each other in a way you never would have known
Cortisol is a hormone the is secreted by the adrenal glands when our body is in a stress response. This mechanism was designed for our survival mode. So if you are being confronted by a bear in the woods your body within seconds must activate the stress response system in order to survive, if not you stand the chance of being dead or seriously injured. This response is also activated when we take on a thrilling experience like a roller coaster ride or we have just gotten some exciting news, a new job, acceptance to a school. But notice what they all have in common.....it is a SHORT response in time maybe seconds to minutes. Now this is extremely important because thats how the body was designed and this is a very healthy response. What exactly happens during this time frame.
When a stressful situation arises the body goes into a response, it gets a signal from the brain via a hormone sent to the adrenal glands to produce another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid. The brain calls for a massive amount of cortisol production to move the autonomic nervous into sympathetic mode and shut done parasympathetic mode. So we ramp up cardiovascular, lung capacity, massive amounts of glucose is pulled out of tissue and sent to our muscles to be used, flash bulb memory (how did I handle this situation before to survive). Now what do we shut down, all the non essentials to survive, all the expensive time consuming projects the body does on a daily basis. Digestion, immune system, wound healing, pain sensation, reproduction, growth, these are all temporally put on hold until we can get past the "danger".
So what happens when we activate this stress response system on a long term, chronic bases. First we continue to produce cortisol and cortisol crosses the blood brain barrier and hence enters the brain. Scientists found this out for the first time in 1969 through experiments conducted at the Rockefeller Institute. What they saw was that cortisol acted primarily on the limbic part of the brain namely the hippocampus. Now the hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with emotions, pleasure, mood, motivation, learning and memory. Our short term memory starts here then turns into long term memories. Cortisol doesn't exactly kill neurons and neurotransmitters, what is does do is leave them dangling on an edge of a cliff. Repeat the insult or stress again and you begin to kill of these neurons and this happens with a vengeance in the hippocampus.
Robert Sapolsky, a noted neurobiologist from Stanford, found this out in the mid 80's with experiments showing that this activation of excess cortisol was really an energy crisis in the brain. The brain has mechanisms that control this but they are expensive, they require a lot of energy and cortisol depletes energy. The brain cannot mount these defenses. Hence we start to have destruction of the hippocampus and to a lesser extent other areas of the brain. Over extended periods of time months to years we start to see subtle effects of this playing out in our lives. We find it harder to concentrate, learn, remember simple things like why did I walk into this room....to get what??, where did I leave my keys a moment ago, we get short tempered, we don't get things done or we loose our motivation, we don't find pleasure in things we used to. All of this is due to too much cortisol acting on the brain harming these neurotransmitters and neurons.
Now scientists have also discovered neurogenesis, the production of new neurons. However excess cortisol shuts this process down. But we can replenish this system by using Amino Acid Therapy. The precursors to these main neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine are certain amino acids. So the brain is in what scientists have termed a Relative Nutritional Deficiency of these specific amino acids. You cannot eat enough food to replenish them, hence they need to be supplemented until the deficiency is fulfilled along with managing the stressors that are activating this response system. The main stressors are nutrition, emotions, environmental and hidden inflammation. What our goal is, is to return the body to balance. Most every disease we experience is either caused by or made worse by stress.
We can test these deficiencies by using a specific test that shows metabolites of these pathways dumping into the urine and that gives us an indication of whether we are burning up these neurotransmitters as fast as we are producing them or if we are simply depleted. We design each individual protocol off of your specific biochemistry. This is all science based through many years of research and patient hours. The efficacy of Amino Acid Therapy has a long history but fell to the wayside with the advent of anti-depressant drugs which have been proven over long term studies to be less than effective with many side effects.