How Are Stimulants Effects Damaging Your Body System?

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dr. Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM



Your body crashing from caffeine stimulants effectsStimulants are compounds used to push beyond the normal limits of the body’s function. The common function is their ability to increase catecholamine such as norepinephrine and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). The use of stimulants induces the feeling of increased energy, attention, and alertness by acting on the central nervous system. Physical changes take place in the body when stimulants are used, including changes to: heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. In today’s fast paced society, many people are turning to the use of stimulants to maintain this way of life. Current research shows that the use of stimulants effects may have serious implications to health.

What Are Stimulants?

There are many types of stimulants commonly used today. Many forms are legal such as nicotine, caffeine, and energy supplements. Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta are examples of stimulant medications that require an ADHD (Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder) or other behavioral health diagnosis as well as a physician’s prescription. Illegal forms of stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). It is important to note that prescription medications are illegal forms of stimulants if obtained without a physician’s prescription.

The use of stimulants triggers the release of neurotransmitters from the brain. Dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and other neurotransmitters are secreted at an increased rate causing a miscommunication between the cells of the body and the brain. Stimulants effects are chemical messages of euphoria, energy, and alertness that interrupt the body’s messages of fatigue to the brain. This reduced communication between mind and body can result in serious health concerns.

Stimulants Effects On The Body

Stimulants effects differ depending on the kind of stimulant used. The stimulants effects on health are amplified with long-term use. Many times, individuals find themselves using several types of stimulants which increase the risk of health concerns.

Nicotine

Nicotine, found in tobacco products, triggers an increase in the release of both dopamine and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical of the brain, creates a sensation of wellbeing and slight euphoria. The added epinephrine provides increased alertness, energy, and focus. Long term stimulants effects of nicotine include an increased risk of heart disease, risk of numerous cancers, decreased insulin levels, damage to the respiratory system, and premature aging.

Caffeine

Caffeine is very popular in the U.S. today. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates approximately 90 percent of the world’s adult population uses some form of caffeine. Common sources include coffee drinks, green and black teas, energy drinks, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and even some forms of chocolate. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the nervous system, triggering the release of excitatory hormones, such as: epinephrine and dopamine. Caffeine users experience a sensation of energy, focus, and stamina. Caffeine causes dramatic changes to the body. The circulatory system reacts with irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations and the respiratory system works harder to create a proper blood oxygen balance. Stomach acid production increases and digestion disorders may occur. Reproductive health suffers for both men and women. The stimulants effects are system wide.

Stimulant Medications

Symptoms of stimulants effectsMedications used for ADHD, such as: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Dextroamphetamine Salts, raises the availability of excitatory neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine to boost attention and focus. Common thyroid replacement medications such as Synthroid, Cytomel, and Armour thyroid are by nature stimulatory due to their metabolic enhancing effect. Anabolic hormones include DHEA, pregnenolone, growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen, also have stimulatory properties. The physical stimulants effects on the body include increased heart rate, blood pressure, suppressed appetite, and weight loss. These medications, even when used properly under the care of a physician, can interfere with circulation, causing fingers and toes to feel numb or hurt. Other side effects include digestive disorders, vision problems, weight loss, anxiety, depression, and many others. It is important to note that physiologically and biochemically, the body treat all stimulants the same: they all increase metabolic rate and speed. They may not be labelled as stimulants, but their stimulatory properties and effects cannot be ignored. In fact, these stimulatory properties usually become amplified in the adrenal fatigue setting.

Illegal Stimulants

Illegal forms of stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). The use of these stimulants has serious consequences to health. Cocaine and methamphetamine are highly addictive, therefore long term use is very common. The body suffers greatly and long term use can be fatal. Cocaine and methamphetamine create damaging effects on the heart. Blood pressure and heart rate are increased substantially and blood vessels are constricted. Sleep disturbances are common as is liver and kidney damage. The body is often traumatized from malnourishment and sleep deprivation. Tooth structures decay, mental health deteriorates, and the body as a whole suffers greatly.
MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, is becoming increasing popular. MDMA triggers the release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, three very powerful excitatory neurotransmitters. Individuals who ingest MDMA experience decreased anxiety and apprehension while feeling emotionally connected to others, an increased creative thought process, and a higher sense of wellbeing and happiness. The stimulants effects are short lived and often replaced with irritability, anxiety, restlessness, aggression, insomnia, appetite disruption, and other negative symptoms.

Supplements and Medications

Supplements that are intrinsically stimulating include:

  • Herbs such as ashwagandha, maca, green tea, black tea, ginseng
  • Vitamin such as vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin B5
  • Minerals including zinc, manganese, copper
  • Amino acids such as glutamine, tyrosine.

They are generally well tolerated and stimulatory. They are not prominent in a body that is healthy and strong. On the other hand, they tend to be stimulatory in nature in a body that is weak, such as those in advance stages of AFS. Nutritional supplements that are generally calming such as magnesium, theanine, and taurine may also exhibit paradoxical behavior and behave as stimulants in a body that is weak for reasons not well understood.

Dependency and Withdrawal

Headaches are from the withdrawal of stimulants effectsStimulants are highly addictive in nature. Stimulants effects seem inconsequential when trying to keep up with the hustle and bustle of life. Often times it takes only a single use to become dependent on these substances. Once addicted, avoiding the withdrawal symptoms is the main reason for continued use.

Nicotine withdrawal causes irritability, intolerances to stress, and food cravings with subsequent weight gain. Caffeine withdrawal can induce horrible headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Withdrawing from stimulant medication may trigger low energy and motivation, depression, and other mental health concerns. Illegal stimulants may require medical treatment and rehabilitation services in order to control withdrawal symptoms and maintain stable vital signs.

The most common withdrawal symptoms from stimulants include, but are not limited to:

  • Inability to feel pleasure or satisfaction in life
  • Damage to heart and circulatory system
  • Low motivation, attention, and focus
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • Depression and other psychological disorders
  • Anxiety and panic attacks

Other stimulants effects on the body include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Fertility problems
  • PMS difficulties and premature menopause
  • Impotence and other sexual dysfunction
  • When stimulant use has been chronic or used in high doses, withdrawal symptoms may worsen and include heart failure, stroke, extreme aggression, and severe mental health concerns such as: psychosis, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Stimulant Effects on the NEM Stress Response

Stimulant affects the body in many ways. The central nervous system is triggered into an excitatory state and surpasses the body nature state of functioning. Epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol flood the body. The body and mind is pushed into a prolonged state of arousal. With Stimulants effects, the organs of the body become taxed.

The body’s natural defense against threats to health, and overall survival, is NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response of the adrenals. Situated atop each of the kidneys, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, known as the stress hormone, in reaction to physical and mental stressors. The adrenals are impacted greatly by stimulants. Stimulants create, and increase, production of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, which are the major excitatory neurotransmitters. These are the same neurotransmitters, produced during times of significant stress. The NEM stress response is triggered, and the adrenals secrete cortisol, and the body prepares itself by entering a “fight or flight” state.

Stress can be positive or negative in nature. The mind and body utilize the same chemical pathways during times of significant celebrations, as in times of distress or trauma. Deep within the brain, the amygdala perceives a threat and messages the hypothalamus, which releases a corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), activates the adrenals to produce cortisol. Thus the NEM stress response has been engaged.

When the NEM stress response is activated, the body is placed in survival mode. The body is placed in a state of heightened awareness, with increased heart rate, blood pressure, and enhanced decision making abilities. Body systems that are not crucial for survival are decreased significantly. The digestion system can be disrupted due to the stimulants effectsDigestion is impacted, the reproductive system functions are decreased, the immune system suffers, and changes to blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate occur. The NEM stress response allows the body to attend to current stressors, and threats of harm, to create the highest possibility of survival.

The NEM stress response is a life saving reaction that has enabled humans for generations to survive unthinkable obstacles and challenges. However, modern life stressors do not usually include threats to survival. Many times our stressors are the result of a myriad of appointments, commutes and traffic, promotions, and the overall distress from our fast paced modern lives. The NEM stress response was not intended to be in constant activation. When stress is chronic, the adrenals become overworked and are unable to respond effectively to stress.

In many cases, this is when individuals begin to use stimulants and the cycle of stimulant use begins. Improvements to mood, energy, and focus are short lived and the need for increased amounts of stimulants is needed. Stimulant effects cause a miscommunication between the brain and body. The excitatory neurotransmitters, released from the brain, push the body further and longer, and the body systems continue to be overworked.

When the body lives under the effects of chronic stress, exacerbated by the stimulants effects, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) may result. AFS, commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue, is a collection of symptoms that occur when the body is placed in a prolonged state of stress. When left untreated, adrenal fatigue may worsen significantly.
Due to the fact that Adrenal Fatigue symptoms vary in type and intensity, and could potentially be the result of other health conditions, it is important to always consult your Primary Care Provider with health related questions and concerns.

The symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include, but are not limited to,

  • Extreme and constant fatigue
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
  • Hypoglycemia symptoms
  • Inability to handle stress
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression and other mental health concerns
  • Weight gain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Skin changes, rashes, and acne
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Brain fog, memory and concentration issues
  • Low libido
  • PMS symptoms, early menopause, and infertility
  • Cravings for salty, fatty foods
  • Digestion disruption
  • Low body temperature or external temperature intolerances
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or extreme vertigo
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, constipation or diarrhea
  • Allergies and many other symptoms

The Road to Recovery

Life today is busy and often hectic and stressful. Life stress is abundant, with career obligations and the constant struggle of balancing work and family, even vacations can be stress filled. Many individuals turn to stimulants to cope with the ever increasing demands of life. Some use nicotine to both relieve stress and boost mood and energy. Others use caffeine or other energy enhancing drinks and supplements to keep up with the daily grind. Those who consult with their primary care physicians’, will be prescribed a stimulant medication. And sadly, a number of people will turn to illegal stimulants that have severe health risks.

Use vitamins to help with the stimulants effectsAdrenal Fatigue Syndrome results when the body is subjected to chronic stress. The use of stimulants, to push the body and mind, has serious implications on health and may worsen adrenal fatigue. In order to begin the healing process, the use of stimulants must be avoided unless there is no choice. Giving the body the raw material for it to re-establish its self regulatory system is preferred. This requires extensive clinical experience and skill, as small miscalculations can worsen the condition. The communication between the body and brain is essential to health and the effects of stimulants disrupt these messages. In order to begin the healing process, mind/body communication is crucial. This allows the individual to rest when the body is fatigued, eat when the body is hungry, and naturally relax after times of stress.

Recovery from AFS, and reversing stimulants effects, require a slow and deliberate comprehensive program. Abrupt withdrawal from any stimulant is not recommended, but, in fact, can be detrimental and worsen adrenal fatigue. The longer the stimulant use, the greater the risk of such a situation. It can cause adrenal crashes. Important lifestyle changes are needed . Remove any liver and extra cellular space congestion, reduce systemic stealth infection and inflammation, nurturing the body with essential vitamins and minerals, are critical practices for recovery while using food as fuel.

Supplements can be of great help in facilitating the recovery. Unfortunately, improper use can also worsen the condition. The proper dosage is key, as these compounds can have intrinsic stimulatory properties. Adrenal cortex glandulars and herbs such ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, and ginseng are particularly troublesome. Those in advanced stages of AFS are particular vulnerable to their effects. Even small amounts can trigger adrenal crash. Many reported only a temporary improvement, followed by tolerance, resistance, and ultimately a crash. Dependency and withdrawal problems are also prevalent upon long term use.

Learning and following the adrenal fatigue diet is a great source for healing foods that will provide optimal nutrition, energy, and healing during this time of recovery. Sodium should be encouraged, while potassium discouraged. Water is vital to life. It is important to drink adequate amounts of water. Staying hydrated is a natural energy booster and is essential to all life processes. Do not over hydrated as it can lead to possible electrolyte imbalances.

Exercise is excellent for health. However, individuals suffering from adrenal fatigue should approach physical activity with caution. Starting with short sessions of low impact exercise, like adrenal restorative exercise or adrenal yoga exercise is best. Be careful not to overwork the body, as to avoid an adrenal crash. Learning adrenal breathing exercises will reduce stimulation in a body that is sensitive.

Vitamins and supplements can help replenish vital nutrients, that have been lost during times of stimulant consumption. Adrenal fatigue sufferers should approach supplementation with caution, as negative clinical outcome is possible.

Disrupted sleep due to the stimulants effectsSleep is extremely important to the mind and body during healing and recovery. Learning good sleep habits such as: regular sleep and wake times, “unplugging” the bedroom by removing electronics, and avoiding caffeinated beverages and supplements, at least six hours prior, to bedtime, will all be beneficial during the healing process.

Learning stress relieving techniques like meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, gardening, creating art, and other activities help the body cope with daily stress. These practices allow the mind to relax and the body to rejuvenate.

Conclusion

Living in the modern world places great demand on your body. The use of stimulants, to help the body adapt to stressful life, is rampant. From illegal street drugs to prescription medications, nutritional supplements to socially acceptable caffeinated drinks, few of us can escape from the world of stimulants in some form. While they can have temporary benefit, the sad reality is that most become dependent on them over time. Sufferers of adrenal fatigue are particularly at risk. The more advanced the stages of AFS, the greater the risk of damage by stimulatory compounds.

The road to recovery from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome should be focused on reducing mental and physical stress, nurturing the body with a nutrient dense diet, drinking clean water, and obtaining proper amounts of sleep. Abrupt discontinuation is not recommended and can be detrimental. Most self navigation effort fails because the body can develop dependency on such compound over time.

Proper nutritional supplementation is a key to recovery, which is best when carried out in a slow, systematic, and comprehensive fashion, by an experienced, and AFS literate, professional. This helps avoid the common mistakes that most people make that can potentially worsen their condition.


© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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6 Comments

  • sharon says:

    Dear Dr. Lam: I read your book and in it you mention that your readers can get a list of doctors who follow your plan or agree with gentle treatment of our adrenals. I would love to have this this as my endochronologist doesn’t believe in adrenal fatigue.
    Thank you for your books. I love your cook book too. I just had red pepper soup today with a spinach patty. They were excellent. thank you, Sharon California

    • Dr.Lam says:

      We don’t have a list because our work is unique. There must be some communication error. There is a chapter in the book on how to interview your practitioner to help to see whether they are AFS literate.

      Dr.Lam

  • Karol says:

    What exactly are the symptoms of an adrenal crash. Is this what I am experiencing every time my blood pressure spikes or because I’m doing too much and don’t really realize it. The last five years it has been spiking really high about every 9-12 months but now seems to be happening like every 5-6 months. I’m 76 and I don’t know what to do. I take Nature Throid but it definitely has the wrong affect on my body so I went off of it for 3 months and started it again the end of January. This has all happened while taking Synthroid, Armour and now Nature Throid. My thyroid antibodies are up to 69 and thyroglobulins are 2, can you t ell me what this represents with respect to taking thyroid medication. It is the only medication I take.

  • Robin says:

    I just spent $100 on liquid Ashwaganda and now I can’t take it! Two sips into my coffe I’m afraid to finish it! I live in fear of everything causing an adrenal crash which fear and anxiety is where I live most of the time anyway. What’s the point of living anyway if you’re afraid to do/eat or drink anything?