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#38 – Andrew Huberman – Neurotransmitters and Stress

Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. (professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University of Medicine) and I discuss how our brains function, the effects of chronic stress and drugs, and beneficial habits to incorporate into your routine for positive brain health.

Find more Prof. Andrew Huberman on Instagram @hubermanlab and on his website

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Show Notes:
[2:00] Prof. Andrew Huberman gives Mikhaila a background on his work in Neurobiology and Ophthalmology in his lab at the Stanford School of Medicine.
[4:00] Looking at the effects of chronic stress on the brain. Stress is a general reaction in all organisms which makes them just want to move, also known as an acute stress response. Chronic stress occurs when that stress response happens frequently enough then you either feel like you cannot relax, are constantly depleted and exhausted, or a combination of both.
[8:00] Andrew addresses the fallacy of adrenal burnout. Adrenal insufficiency is a real thing that can lead to chronic fatigue. Neuroplasticity is the way to reset an out of whack adrenal system.
[9:00] Prof. Huberman gives a brief overview of what a neurotransmitter and a receptor are and a very succinct way to think about how the brain functions.
[11:20] “The way to think about the brain in a very simple but accurate way is to not think of many different areas controlling different things but to realize different sections of the brain can be activated in different sequences like you can play the same keys on a piano in different sequences to create a different outcome.” The levels of different chemicals create a higher or lower possibility of certain outcomes being likely to happen.
[12:30] Prof. Andrew explains the functionality of the main types of neurotransmitters. These include dopamine (an increase is related to experiencing pleasure), serotonin (an increase is related to feeling calm and safe), norepinephrine (an increase creates a sensation of movement in the body, wanting to move, general motivation unfocused), GABA (an increase makes us less inhibited, like when drinking alcohol), and acetylcholine an increase is involved in creating focus for specific tasks).
[17:00] Mikhaila and Andrew discuss the effects of focus-intensifying drugs like Adderall on the brain. The mind of adults operates using what is called Top-down control. norepinephrine enables us to ignore basic instinct and from the frontal lobe and gets harder when we for example get tired. Children and animals do not have this control and as we age we adapt to have the ability to use this top-down control.
[20:30] Mikhaila talks about her personal experience of being on a Adderall prescription
[25:00] More specifics between the interaction of GABA neurotransmitters and alcohol.
[28:30] Andrew gives some practical advice on starting to reverse the effects of chronic stress using behavioural tools, especially breathing techniques, to train our bodies to learn to deal with stress.
[36:30] Do certain medications inhibit one’s ability to create a proper response to stress without the chemical aid that the drug provides?
[40:30] Nootropics commonly referred to as smart drugs, for example, caffeine, are commonly being used more and more to help students and adults focus on necessary tasks. Andrew expresses his opinion on using these substances. He also recommends for looking into supplements.
[47:30] Beneficial habits in calming and transitioning to a sleep state. Breathing exercise
[58:00] The result of long term extended periods of screen time for kids. Doctors have already documented changes in the developing eyes of children exposed to lots of screen time have led in some cases to the actual eyeball shape-changing leading to near-sightedness. “We are currently living in the experimental era where we will find what the results of lots of screen time is on human bodies when this generation grows up.”
[1:07:30] Find more Prof. Andrew Huberman on Instagram @hubermanlab, and starting in January 2021 a new Youtube channel with more content.