Is Your Brain on Fire? Stress and Injury Cause Microglial Cell Overactivation

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

September 25, 2023

Is Your Brain on Fire? Stress and Injury Cause Microglial Cell Overactivation

I believe that one of the most important things for your overall health is the vitality of your brain and nervous system. Innumerable factors affect brain health through all stages of life, yet of critical importance are specialized nervous system cells called microglial cells.

My recent article Brain Fog and Irritability Linked to Glial Cell Health provided introductory information about microglial cells, their daily contribution to brain health, and factors that influence their activation.

Microglial cells perform essential maintenance functions in your brain. However, when significant stressors cause microglial cells to become chronically activated, they can turn from helpful to problematic. A wide range of concerns including concussions, high stress, chronic pain, toxins, alcohol use, or long-Covid, and much more can be a result of ongoing activation of microglial cells. This is stressful to your brain and provokes chronic inflammation in your brain that may be subtlety affecting your health.

Clues About Your Brain Vitality

Brain inflammation and chronic microglial cell activation lead to many symptoms. Do you find yourself with brain fog and unclear thoughts? Perhaps you process information more slowly and must reread things more often than in the past. Do you find yourself falling asleep in mid-task or become quickly fatigued with driving? How about crashing after a meal? Suffer from insomnia, depression, anxiety, poor stress tolerance, or migraines? These are signs of brain stress.

As chronic microglial activation continues, it takes a toll on brain health. Cellular changes with management of amyloid proteins, alpha-synuclein, LPS toxins, myelin sheath, and ATP production, etc. become dysregulated and ebb away at brain vitality, energy, cognitive sharpness and emotional stability.

Chronic stress and low-grade brain inflammation can lead to microglial cell changes and loss. Studies demonstrate that your first symptoms may be depression and mild cognitive changes, but can progress into dementia over the years.

Health Concerns Linked with Chronic Microglial Cell Activation

Here are many of the concerns that can cause or be a result of chronic microglial cell activation.

• Autism Spectrum Disorders

Alzheimer’s disease

• Anxiety

• Brain tumor/Glioma

• Cancer Therapy

• Chronic alcohol use

• Chronic pain syndromes

• Chronic stress and social isolation

• Concussion

• Dementia

• Depression

• Diabetic Retinopathy

• Epilepsy/Seizure disorders

• Eye/retina disorders: glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, retinal injury, retinopathy of prematurity, age related macular degeneration

• Facial nerve injuries

• Gut Microbiome changes

• HIV-1/brain infections

• High fat diet

• High salt diet

• Insomnia, Circadian Rhythm Disruptions, and Sleep Disorders

• Long-Covid Syndrome

• LPS toxins and mood

• Migraine disorders

• Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

• Neurodegenerative disorders, other: ALS, Huntington’s disease

• Multiple Sclerosis

• Neuropathy

• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Parkinson’s Disease

• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

• Psychosocial Stress/Social Defeat

• Radiation treatment

• Schizophrenia

• Stroke

• Toxins, e.g aluminum, fluorideexcitotoxins

• Trauma

Recent Findings on Sports Concussions and Cleared to Play

Over the years, various professionals and organizations have reported on brain changes in individuals suffering from concussion during football, hockey, boxing, soccer, and other sports. Those who suffer from sports related concussions must go through testing and rehab protocols to ensure they have recovered before they can return to the game.

New research published March 2023 shows chronic microglial cell activation may persist in athletes with sports related concussion even though they were cleared to return to play. In this study, collegiate athletes were thoroughly evaluated, completed treatment, and were determined to have achieved clinical recovery. Despite passing these tests, specialized PET scans showed increased activity within the limbic system and other regions within the brain, indicating persisting microglial cell activation.

Professionals and parents alike are concerned about the long-term brain health of adolescents with a sports related concussion.

No matter if you have a history of concussions from sports or motor vehicle accidents, military-related injuries, falls, or other issues with migraines, severe chronic stress, sleep problems, high fat/high salt diet, or long-haul Covid-- be diligent about protecting your brain today and tomorrow. Wear a seat belt, helmet, or other protective gear when indicated. Nourish your brain with a whole foods diet and hydration. Work on sleep quality and quantity, stress management, and incorporate regular exercise. Optimize your nutritional status.

You have one “melon” for life. Do you see yourself or other loved ones in this list? Protect and nourish your brain health today!

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