What is happening to my brain?

Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Stressed? Anxious? Mind is racing?


Lots of the perimenopausal women in my clinic talk about the fact that they now have a reduced capacity to deal with the stresses that they were once able to cope with. 

I like to talk about this as your adaptogenic capacity. 

If you’ve heard of the term adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion, then this is what I’m talking about. 

The whole system that’s directly involved with adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.  The brain, the thyroid, the gut, the ovaries – they are all connected by this axis and feed into each other. When there is overwhelm, this is considered HPA access dysfunction or dysregulation.

This ties in with our inability to cope with stress.  

When your HPA axis is functioning well, you produce higher amounts of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, only when you need them.  And we only need them when there is immediate danger.  We need them when we need to either run for our lives or fight for our lives. We don’t and can’t do this 24/7.  However, some of us are sending the run/fight for your life messages to our brain 24/7 and believe it or not, we can actually get addicted to this feeling. 

When your HPA axis is not functioning well and you’re sitting at a desk with deadlines and your body can’t tell the difference between a deadline and a tiger at the cave, you make chronically higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline and these can contribute to depression, insomnia, fatigue, reduced muscle mass, reduced libido, impaired immune function, and insulin resistance. 

And all of these can also be associated with weight gain around the middle.

When your HPA axis is not functioning well it can also lead to a decreased level of the adrenal hormone DHEA, which assists in the production of estrogen. 

Therefore, taking steps to improve the function of your HPA axis can help to make estrogen during peri/menopause.

To support our HPA axis, we need to give our adrenals a big hug, let them sleep more and rest more often. Not force them out of bed at 5am and run them around the park – reinforcing the message that you are at war and that you need to run or fight for your life. No. 

Rest is progress. 

The parasympathetic nervous system is an excellent way to regulate and stabilize your HPA access. 

Rest/meditate/yoga/nap/sleep yourself well. 

Please have a look at my beautiful meditation for peri/menopause blog and in the workbook inside my premium program. 

The function of our HPA axis can also be improved by supporting our circadian rhythm, that is, your sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm is very, very important.

Every cell in your body has a clock and is on a 24-hour schedule. 

Keep your sleep and wake times the same each day thereby balancing melatonin (your “time to go to bed” hormone) and serotonin (your “feel good” hormone). Your cortisol rises in the morning so that you can jump out of bed. It has a slow decline in the afternoon, remains stable, but goes down so that you can sleep deeply at night.  Melatonin, on the other hand, increases soon after the onset of darkness, peaks in the middle of the night, and gradually falls during the second half of the night so that you are able to wake well in the morning.

Morning light and evening dark are really important for recalibrating and resetting your circadian rhythm. When you have a good circadian rhythm, you tend to produce enough melatonin and enough serotonin and therefore have a beautiful balance.

Also, when you sleep your glymphatic system gets to work and literally cleans out the rubbish in your brain. 

Keeping to a regular sleep-wake schedule is an excellent way to promote your overall health, including the health of your metabolism, mood, sleep and your HPA axis in general.

Safe, effective, natural evidence-based strategies and supplementation for brain health: 

HPA dysfunction can also result from problems in the gut.

That is why the gut is the gateway to supporting your hormones and rescuing you from the roller coaster of perimenopause.

The gut is in the middle of the HPA axis.  It is the core.  In order to have good health, you need to heal, seal and repair your gut ASAP. 

If you’re not ready to do our Premium program just yet, start here with our Repair Your Gut and Increase Your Metabolism program. 

At The Holland Clinic and in our premium program, we believe intermittent fasting is key to optimal gut health.  The fasting we promote is a supported “fasting mimicking” diet.

So, yes, it mimics fasting. Therefore you get all the benefits of fasting without the horrible side effects. It avoids the stress of a fast.  The message to your brain is that you have not skipped breakfast or lunch. So this helps keep your cortisol levels stable and doesn’t get you into a fight or flight stress response.

Another way to support your HPA axis and therefore brain function is through supplementation.

Magnesium is an important one.  Magnesium benefits brain health and cognition.

A special form of Magnesium lots of women in my clinic love is Magnesium threonate. Magnesium L-threonate is often used for its potential brain benefits and may help manage certain brain disorders, such as depression and age-related memory loss.

More supplement ideas for healthy cognition: 

MCT oil/powder: MCT readily converts to ketones, therefore providing a non-glucose energy source for the brain. Therapeutic dose is 1-2 tablespoons (many of my patients prefer our MCT oil powder as it’s easier on the tummy). 

Taurine: Benefits brain health and cognition. 

Vitamin B12: By the age of 50, you have a 40% chance of being deficient in B12 – it’s a critical brain nutrient. Symptoms of deficiency include: fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, memory problems, tingling or numbness in hands and feet and problems with balance. 

Choline : Choline is the precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that supports memory, mood and intelligence. 

Other powerful botanicals: such as triganda/withania and adaptogenic herbs, as well as SPMs, decreasing inflammation in the brain.

So when you say, what is happening to my brain? We really need to support the HPA axis and the adrenals, always keeping an eye on the thyroid and supporting all of this through the gut. 

Well, there is so much more to tell you on the subject but I will leave it here for now.  I hope you have found this information interesting and want to hear more about the topic!  Reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.  We absolutely love hearing from you.

Here is a video I recorded on Instagram that gives some more information.

Our resources that can help you get started: 

1. Join our Premium transformational program

2. If you don’t know where to start, do our Repair Your Gut and Increase Your Metabolism program 

3. Purchase any of our resources to get you started: 

 4. Book a 1:1 Chaos to Calm consultation

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