Switches and Thermostats—Adjusting Your Brain Chemistry

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at http://amzn.to/1eju3wu or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Switches and Thermostats—Adjusting Your Brain Chemistry
The previous chapter examines the idea that chronic stress interferes with internal biochemical balance and, further, that interference leads to imbalances that directly reduce vigor and promote burnout. However, it is possible to restore biochemical balance and, in doing so, it becomes possible to beat burnout and to reestablish a desired state of high vigor. In addition, your thoughts and experiences can alter your neural circuits and change the structure and function of your brain. This concept of neuroplasticity is also a two-way street, in that negative thoughts and actions can establish circuitry that is detrimental to your health and well-being (thus reducing vigor). On the other hand, positive thoughts and actions establish patterns of neuronal firing that promote feelings of well-being, abundant energy, and high vigor.

Because the concepts of biochemical balance and neuroplasticity can become extremely complex (and are actually not even fully understood by researchers), I often use the analogy of “switches and thermostats” to help people understand exactly what is going on at the cellular level when they are exposed to chronic stress. Think of stress as a “switch.” When you’re under a lot of stress, your switch is flipped “on,” and when things are calm, your stress switch is in the “off” position. The switch (on or off) represents the degree of “signal” that is being transmitted to your body and to every individual cell in every tissue and organ. A constant signal from a switch that is in the “on” position for too long can overload the cell, leading to cellular dysfunction, tissue breakdown, stress-related disease, and low vigor.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the “thermostat,” which represents the “receptors” on the surface of cells. These receptors are the parts of the cell that transmit and interpret the signals from the switches—basically letting the cells “hear” what is going on around them. The more thermostats you have in a room of your house (or receptors on a cell), the more specifically you can detect the signal from the stress switch. Chronic stress is like having your switch in the “always on” position. When you look at the thermostats, however, you’ll see that by having more thermostats (receptors) or having really sensitive thermostats that can detect very slight changes in temperature, your cells can respond quickly and very specifically to changes in the level of your stress signal.

This is how your body should work when you’re in good health: When you encounter stress, your switch sends the stress signal throughout the body (via nerves, hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines, and so forth). These signals are “read” by your cellular thermostats (receptors), thus triggering actions within the cells, such as the fight-or-flight response or an increase/decrease in inflammation levels and blood sugar.

Unfortunately, with chronic stress, these signals become too strong or come too frequently, so your “thermostats” begin to malfunction or shut off, and your cells no longer respond appropriately. This “insensitivity” of your “thermostats” (receptors) to the stress signals from your “switch” underlies many of the problems with biochemical balance that result in low vigor and detrimental neuroplastic changes in brain structure. Those changes cause further biochemical imbalances and reduce vigor even more in a vicious downward cycle.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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