Distractions, the HPA Axis, and Healing From Mold

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

Previously we discussed the hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal (HPA) axis as the body’s central stress response system and how it becomes dysfunctional from prolonged periods of stress–a topic that has become so very prevalent not only in patients suffering from mold and mycotoxin exposures but in our society in general!  In the article, we covered the toll that prolonged stress can take on your body and some tools and lifestyles changes to help address this issue. I hope to take the topic a little further in this article and offer some additional support strategies and a few natural, safe remedies that might be added to your current protocol to provide vital hormonal balance.

Distractions are Unavoidable

These days, we are all bombarded with distractions. The ancient evolutionary drive to take in information– an important survival trait– has been used by social media and marketers who specialize in what works to gain our constant attention and energy.  Even when you think you are relaxing and mindlessly scrolling, all online content is designed to engross you and steal your time to get your clicks and follows. The term “clickbait” has become part of our vocabulary now, and anyone on the computer for just about any reason is subjected to it.

What Makes us Click?

Each time we use social media and decide to engage or click, we get a chemical reward: a tiny dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates our reward and pleasure centers. Something similar happens when playing video games, or when someone likes your picture or post–you feel good and find it hard to walk away. Some researchers believe both net surfing and computer gaming are addictive for just these reasons. The pleasure rewards keep you distracted and playing longer or clicking more. Dopamine hits become a problem when we lose ourselves in distraction and our obligations or responsibilities are shirked in lieu of the distraction itself. When this starts happening, we stress about responsibilities that we are putting off while doing the thing that distracts us. Then, as we lose focus, we stress more; therefore, craving relief from the distraction more too. As you can see, this loop becomes self-perpetuating rather quickly and can make many people feel out of control and overwhelmed.

When our lives are caught in this distraction-stress loop, the entire HPA axis also stays in a stressed mode which can then lead to more fatigue, hormonal imbalance, and suppressed immunity. I see this issue with many of my mold-harmed patients. The times we live in are so full of distraction in the first place but add to that a “mysterious illness” where much research and desperate searching is done online and in groups through social media, and you often get increased hormonal issues caused by the magnified distraction of just trying to find answers and help. This is not to say that you shouldn’t learn as much as possible, or be your own advocate. My goal is to bring awareness to the many distractions that can make healing more difficult as they contribute to the stress and underlying problems. When you lose your ability to focus, you can also worry yourself even sicker and magnify nervous system symptoms like headaches, brain fog, and even tingling and tremors.

Distraction, Stress, Hormones, and Mold

In mold-triggered illness, the natural hormonal balance is often impaired by mycotoxins.  Mycotoxins can damage and inflame the receptor sites of hormones. Receptor sites, or the biochemical place where the hormone stimulates a gland to function, may become resistant to production, and greatly diminish output (or in some cases, may stimulate MORE activity). What results are glands that effectively rob from other glandular systems, and things can just get very out-of-whack. Eventually, the hormonal disruption causes confusing symptoms like feeling wired but tired, or rapid weight gain, even though diet and lifestyle have not altered. I focus on proper thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary health with my patients, but behavioral strategies are also vitally important to support these hormone functions. Additionally, nutritional plans or diets that pay attention to our “senses” can be tremendously helpful in the healing process.

Sensory Diet Strategies for Hormonal Healing

Here are some strategies I employ with my patients to help with their sensory diets and to limit distractions that contribute to stress on the body:

1. Become AWARE of your behavior. This pertains to mindful eating and mediation, but also awareness of how much time we are spending online or gaming.  There are apps, such as RescueTime that can track how we spend online hours, and allow us to set limitations and goals around web-based activities. I know that my phone gives me a report each week as to how much screen time I have spent, and compares it week to week but I think having a more real-time approach that can give daily descriptions may be more helpful. A great plan is to declare days, or at least parts of days, as screen-free, and stick to it.  This is much like exercise, when we commit to a given time, it actually gets done, to our benefit!  Even better is spending this “away time” outdoors whenever possible, which can be very healing.

2. Employ homeopathic or nutritional support for adrenals, thyroid, and pituitary. These interventions can cause a biochemical, calming effect on the body. The use of CellTropin and Adrenal Boost can gently help balance pituitary and adrenal hormonal functions, which can become dramatically impacted by mold and mycotoxin exposure and left more vulnerable to the impacts of chronic distractions in our day to day lives. In addition to these formulas, there are a few other plant-based sources that have been around for many years which may improve focus and relieve anxiety.

Here are four that science has confirmed are particularly safe and effective:

– Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri): This Ayurvedic herb, given for improving mental function, is a  perennial found in the warm wetlands of Australia and India, and was allegedly used by ancient Vedic scholars to memorize lengthy sacred scriptures. Its ability to enhance calm, focused study appears to come partially from increasing cerebral blood flow. It may also offer the long-term benefit of reducing beta-amyloid concentrations, which may be particularly relevant with aging, and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

– Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.): Another vital Ayurvedic herb, tulsi, also known as holy basil, exhibits a wide range of cognition-enhancing and anxiety-reducing effects, and has also been shown to lower cortisol, a hormone associated with stressful states. This can be taken as a supplement or is often found as tea.

– Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): This calming, restorative herb native to southern Asia has been shown to improve “executive function, sustained attention and information-processing speed.” It is contained in many adrenal formulas as an adaptogenic herb…. If you need a little lift it can help the adrenals do this, but if you are over-stressed, it can also calm things down.

– L-Theanine: A component of green tea, several human studies have found it to be a potent calming agent, reducing both reported stress and cortisol response.

These can be all used singly or in combination with each other to attain maximal benefit.  Although some are found in Adrenal Boost, taking a little more of one or another is safe to do as well, depending on needs and desired effect.  They can all be found on wellevate.me/susantanner.

Did you find this article helpful? We hope so. Write to us below with comments or questions. We can also be reached at newsletter@sinusitiswellness.com.