by Bradley Bush, ND
Specialty: Naturopathy with focus on neuroimmunology and endocrinology
Company Affiliation: Clinical Advisory Board Member for NeuroScience, Inc.
Today we’re going to go beyond adrenal stress, to talk about a hidden biochemical process that may be affecting your patients with “Type A Personality.” I am particularly referring to those go-getters, drivers, high functioning achievers; they frequently own businesses, run a family, and exercise daily. They can be very outgoing and charismatic. They seem to thrive on stress and success.
How many of your patients are Type A personalities? Do you have a Type A personality?
Type A personality isn’t actually a personality type. It’s a set of behaviors. However, I see a lot of patients that fit this description. In the United States, we glorify and encourage this type of personality. But, I’m here to tell you that there isn’t always a happy ending for these people because their tanks eventually run empty. They get burned out, the stress becomes difficult to cope with, and they begin feeling very tired. They have trouble thinking, and they can’t get things done quickly and efficiently any longer.
In our field, it common to first look at the health of the adrenal glands for that Type A person who seems to run on overdrive. The adrenal glands are often involved. In “50 5 Shades of Adrenal Fatigue,” I explained the various stages of adrenal exhaustion in people that burn the candle at both ends. This is an important place to look in a Type A personality.
But, did you ever consider that oxidative stress may actually be causing the stress, irritability, worry, over-thinking, and sleep issues in the Type A person?
That’s right. Oxidative stress can be the root cause of biochemical imbalances in the brain and throughout the nervous system.
It’s not all bad. Free radicals are necessary for life and a part of normal immune system surveillance. Also called reactive oxygen species, free radicals are unstable molecules with an extra electron hanging out on the edge. The body uses them to neutralize threats, which they do by bumping into enzymes and cells. Our bodies can usually handle these unstable molecules. We make antioxidant enzymes, create antioxidants, and eat antioxidants in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, thereby rendering the radical harmless.
However, an imbalance in this system can lead to sadness and fatigue or brain fog, for example, and may even temporarily affect immune activity. Many things in our modern lifestyle and environment can wear down the body and make it hard to counteract oxidative build-up. The nervous system is particularly vulnerable because it consumes a lot of oxygen but does not have many antioxidant defenses.1
We’ve all heard about the role of oxidative stress in aging, particularly its impact on memory and cognitive function. But if you’re wondering how exactly oxidative stress leads to problems in the nervous system, there are a few mechanisms that are described in the literature. First of all, the build-up occurs when free radicals “hog” all of the antioxidant enzymes,2 leaving no reserves for quenching the normal, daily production of free radicals.
Oxidative stress can cause a build-up, or a depletion, of neurotransmitters.3 In the brain and nervous system, oxidation can harm enzymes that are critical for healthy neurotransmitter production. On the other hand, oxidation can damage enzymes that effectively metabolize and remove neurotransmitters from our brain cells.3 Build-up of neurotransmitters can make a person feel anxious, stressed, agitated, and unable to sleep while a depletion of neurotransmitters can cause someone to feel down, fatigued, unmotivated, or moody.
A stressful lifestyle and years of high cortisol could set-up the Type A person for a pro-oxidative body environment. Psychological stress and distress have been associated with higher levels of free radicals, mediated at least in part by cortisol. In study subjects exposed to long-term or short-term stress, higher cortisol levels were seen together with higher markers of oxidative damage to DNA.4,5 We may learn more about this in the future, as in depth studies on the link between oxidative stress and stress have not yet occurred.
So when you’re dealing with a Type A personality who has lost their “get-up-and-go” or if you’re dealing with anyone who is stressed, irritable, or having trouble sleeping, ask yourself about their oxidative stress level. Underlying oxidative stress may be harming enzymes, neurotransmitter receptors, and neurons, and can cause imbalances in neurotransmitter levels, preventing the brain and nervous system from functioning properly. The adrenal glands may be fatigued in the Type A patient but there may be a bigger, system-wide imbalance of antioxidants versus oxidants. For these patients, we want to also use therapies that calm oxidative stress and support the production of healthy neurotransmitters.
1. Rotilio G, et al. IUBMB life. Oct-Nov 2003;55(10-11):629-634.
2. Moylan S, et al. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. Sep 2014;45:46-62.
3. Liu X, et al. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior. Sep 2013;110:224-230.
4. Aschbacher K, et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Sep 2013;38(9):1698-1708.
5. Costantini D, et al. The Journal of experimental biology. Jan 15 2012;215(Pt 2):374-383.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.