Headaches, Stress, and Brain Fog. They’re all related!
You are probably asking how Headaches, Stress, and Brain Fog are all related?
Well for one, all of these signals occur within the skull, whether it’s from a neurological signal, a neuro-chemical signal, a structural signal, or an inflammatory signal.
In general, headaches/migraines have a handful of components that need to be addressed.
A high majority of the time addressing these 4 components results in almost complete if not full resolution of headaches and migraines. In our initial examination we identify which component above is the main culprit, followed by each additional culprit. We will run additional lab testing as needed to help zone-in on the problem areas.
With headaches and migraines, most often we find the autonomics and vestibular parts of the brain to be faulty (neurological) and these create the structural issues in the neck. When the eyes aren’t tracking their targets properly, the neck muscles must get involved in order to move the head closer to the target. This can lead to over-firing of the neck muscles and result in muscle spasms in the neck and create peripheral nerve compression (ie occipital neuralgia).
The autonomic (think blood flow) changes that occur in migraine lead to the pulsing feeling in the head. While the brain itself doesn’t have pain receptors, the vessels in the brain do. Arteries have muscles in them to contract or relax depending on how much blood flow is supposed to go to “this area” or “that area”. When there’s an abrupt increase arteriole contraction (vasoconstriction) it balloons the veins (veins don’t have muscles to contract or relax) and the veins are the ones more highly innervated with pain (that sense stretch) receptors on them.
Gastrointestinal and Hormonal (and inflammation!)
Inflammatory cytokines are also lurking around in the brain. Some of the most common inflammatory chemicals come from stress. IL-1, IL6, and TNF-a are very common pro-inflammatory mediators and are activated by stress, trauma, injury, infection, etc.
Increased levels of cortisol the stress hormone, has shown to decrease Secretory IgA (SIgA), which helps is the guts first line of defense, and increases development of intestinal permeability/leaky gut. In our clinic, we look at SIgA in two ways– HIGH means it’s currently fighting something, LOW means it’s losing the battle against chronic infection. In addition, poor sleep (not to mention bad relationships) can lead to increased stress/cortisol levels which repeats the above processes.
When the brain-gut axis is affected, the Vagus nerve that connects the brain to the gut shuts down. Its job is to activate motility, enzyme release (think digestive enzymes and HCL or hydrochloric acid), promotes anti-inflammatory effects, and promotes parasympathetic (PS) activation which is the rest and digest system. When the PS system is dampened, by default the Sympathetic (SS) becomes dominant. This essentially puts our bodies into a Fight or Flight mode and cortisol and inflammatory chemicals increase. It also decreases blood flow, promotes constipation, promotes anxiety, promotes migraines, promotes chronic pain, and other chronic ailments.
NOTE- All this increase of inflammatory mediators and cytokines activates glial cells in the brain, which is the primary inflammatory response in the brain’s immune system. This inflammation in the brain often results in “Brain Fog”, which could be compared to being “hung over”.
Be sure to watch our webinar on leaky gut– Here is our webinar on Leaky Gut!
Structurally, the neck, ribs, shoulders and associated muscles all must be addressed in chronic headaches and migraines. Suboccipital muscles may tighten based on oculomotor issues (increased activity of the cervical-ocular-reflex) or there might be a fixation in the Cervical spine that is promoting an entrapment of the greater or lesser occipital nerve. We’ve seen many patients whose shoulders and ribs are involved yet nobody has addressed them because their pain is coming from the base of their skull.
We will also utilize FNOR or Functional Neuro Orthopedic therapies along with a Neuro Prologel that is utilized to dampen peripheral nerve overactivity (it helps shut down over-excited pain nerves). This is a great combination in addition to chiropractic in order for us to achieve optimal outcomes structurally.
Putting it all together
When researching doctors to help you with your chronic headaches or migraines, please make sure to ask if they address these things we’ve outlined above. Yes there may be more components to YOUR situation, and we will ask about those other components during your initial evaluation.