Stress is harmful in numerous ways. This post focuses on one of the worst mediators of the negative effects of stress, but it’s not the only culprit.
If you have one or more of the following, you might have a CRH issue (the more you have the more likely): leaky gut, leaky brain barrier, mast cell/histamine issues, skin problems, sleep issues, SIBO, gut inflammation and general inflammation, IBS-Constipation, gut pain, Diarrhea, problems gaining weight, anxiety/fear, depression, emotional instability, cognitive dysfunction, arthritis, Hashimoto’s, uveitis, IBD, disrupted circadian rhythm, oxidative stress, low Testosterone and high estrogen, low libido and problems with fertility?
If you’re reading this blog, you likely ticked off at least 5 of those. CRH is a common thread in all of these. Put your science hat and get ready for a technical read 🙂
What is CRH?
I suspect that CRH is playing the largest role in gut permeability, which is a significant cause of stress-induced food sensitivities.
CRH production takes place in the cerebral cortex, limbic system, cerebellum, locus coeruleus of the brain stem, and dorsal root neurons of the spinal cord.
The Stress Response and CRH
The stress-response is classically divided into three categories: behavioral, autonomic, and hormonal responses.
CRH is believed to be involved in all three stress-responses, involving different brain regions [R].
Behavioral responses include muscle readiness, fear, anxiety, heightened vigilance, clarity of thought, decreased appetite, and decreased libido.
The behavioral response is initiated in part by the amygdala, which mediates fear-associated behavior.
The amygdalar CRH system is more sensitive to the psychological stressor than the hypothalamic CRH system given that psychological. The amygdalar CRH system causes wakefulness and arousal.
Autonomic responses are controlled by the hypothalamus and are responsible for the automated effects of sympathetic activation/fight or flight activation. These include increased heart rate, breathing rate, blood flow to brain and muscle, activation of innate immunity, decreased blood flow to the skin, gut, and penis, activation of innate immunity, vasodilation and pupil dilation [R]. Other Autonomic functions include certain reflex actions such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing and vomiting.
CRH neurons connect to the brainstem, which is responsible for autonomic responses.
The hypothalamus is just above the brain stem and acts as an integrator for autonomic functions (receiving input from the limbic system to do so) [R].
The hormonal response provides fuel for such activities.
CRH: The Bad
1) CRH Induced Anxiety, Depression and Cognitive Dysfunction
My clients with an overactive nervous system tend to have issues tolerating stressful situations. They are more likely to have anxiety, depression, emotional instability and poor memory function. These symptoms are caused – to one degree or another – by CRH.
CRH causes structural changes in hippocampal neurons, including reduced dendritic branching [R]. This likely worsens memory.
CRH accelerates cognitive decline in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease [R].
Acute stress can activate brain mast cells, which is dependent on CRH. This causes an increased blood-brain barrier permeability in rodents, particularly in brain areas containing mast cells (via CRHR-1) [R].
CRH receptors are decreased by chronic stress [R]. CRHR2 has been shown to reduce feeding behavior and gastrointestinal motility.
CRH and CCK: A Bad Synergy
One interesting study mentioned that if your stress response is activated chronically (chronic CRH), that makes the anxiety effects of CCK (released after meals, especially those with lectins) worse and this leads to ‘hypersensitive emotional circuitry.’ This is the case even if CRH isn’t elevated at the time of CCK secretion [R].
Other studies show that CCK increases CRH and your stress response [R].
CCK independently of CRH cause anxiety and they potentiate the other [R].
2) CRH and The Circadian Rhythm
The master circadian timekeeper is in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus, which controls your HPA axis.
CRH (via CRHR1) is very important (in hamsters) for having a light set your circadian rhythm (phase advance). People with too much CRH at night (from chronic stress or cortisol resistance) or too little in the morning will have problems with setting your circadian rhythm.
However, having normal CRH levels is also important for the circadian rhythm, as CRH-deficient mice have a very low or absent rhythm in cortisol secretion [R].
3) CRH and Sleep
My clients have sleep problems, and in particular, they will have less slow wave sleep.
CRH decreases Slow wave sleep and increases REM [R].
4) CRH and Oxidative Stress
- CRH causes oxidative stress [R].
- CRH could enhance superoxide production in certain scenarios (primes macrophages to release superoxide in rabbits) [R].
- In mice bred to get Alzheimer‘s, blocking CRH (CRHR1) lowered oxidative stress and increased glutathione peroxide activity [R].
- CRH increases peroxynitrite (ONOO), which is an oxidant [R].
CRH->glutamate excitotoxicity->mitochondrial breakdown->energy problem-> more stress.
5) CRH, Inflammation and Histamine Intolerance
My clients with an overactive nervous system tend to have inflammatory issues, as well as immunodeficiency. They also have lower blood pressure and some people have issues with mast cells.
I believe that CRH is at the heart of mast cell activation, while it also contributes to inflammation and lower blood pressure.
CRH also increases TLR-4 (a significant source of inflammation), including in the intestines [R]. I suspect that TLR-4 is a very significant cause of lectin sensitivity.
These effects will contribute to lectin sensitivity, which is one reason why it’s the people with an overactive nervous system who develop lectin sensitivity.
CRH causes mast cell activation, nitric oxide-dependent vasodilatation (which lowers blood pressure), WBC increase and WBC cytokine release [R].
Mast cell activation by CRH explains why stress induces allergic symptoms [R].
CRH is found in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis and uveitis patients. It’s also found in inflammatory immune cells (presumably, plays an inflammatory role) [R].
In Hashimoto’s and UC, inflamed tissues contained large amounts of CRH [R]. These are common conditions with clients of mine who have an overactive nervous system.
Increased blood levels of CRH levels (and decreased skin CRHR-1) was found in psoriasis and atopic dermatitis [R]. These are also common issues in the anxious phenotypical client.
Some studies suggest that CRH inhibits NK cell activity [R], which will make you less capable of fighting viral infections. This effect is prevented by Benzos [R] and beta-adrenergic antagonists [R]. Other studies show that CRH increases natural killer cell activity in mice (via an opioid pathway) [R]. It could be cell type and environment dependent.
6) CRH and the Gut
My clients with an overactive nervous system tend to have gut problems. CRH is probably the single most significant cause.
In particular, they have slower small intestinal flow and sometimes quicker large intestinal flow. They will also tend to have lower HCL. This will cause bloating and SIBO. They also have intestinal inflammation.
CRH causes your gut to be ‘hypersensitive,’ and you experience gut pain more. When given a drug that blocks CRH, the pain goes away [R].
CRH (via CRHR2) slows small intestinal transit. CRH also quickens large intestinal transit [R]. This will cause both IBS-C and IBS-D, but usually IBS-C. IBS-D will occur if you have certain genes that push you in that direction.
CRH induces intestinal barrier injury (Leaky gut) via the release of mast cell proteases and TNF-α [R].
It is possible that one of the CRH-related peptides (urocortin I or III) mediates some of the effects via the CRH receptors.
In C diff infection, the bacteria release a toxin called “toxin A.” When you have the combination of toxin A plus CRH, it causes increased substance P, Intestinal (ileal) fluid secretion, cell damage, and neutrophils and myeloperoxidase to the gut [R].
7) CRH and the Skin
My clients with an overactive nervous system tend to have skin problems. CRH is probably the most significant cause. Here are some specifics:
CRH causes less VEGF in the skin. VEGF promotes hair growth and can, therefore, result in reduced hair growth or baldness.
CRH activates mast cells in the skin, which makes you feel more flush. Mast cell activation plays a central role in skin issues such as eczema, itching, and hives.
In people, CRH was increased in the skin in Alopecia Areata. However, they had insufficient cortisol. The effect of CRH on mast cells contributes to less hair growth.
CRH and mast cell activation from it play an important role in contact dermatitis, which is a rash you develop from a foreign substance. CRH increases the immune response to foreign substances and also increases inflammation (Nf-kB) in hair cells [R].
CRH enhanced tumor cell growth and angiogenesis and can cause or contribute to melanoma.
8) CRH and Appetite
In most people, CRH will cause the production of NPY both directly [R] and indirectly by raising cortisol, which increases NPY [R]. NPY stimulates appetite, but CRH is overall an appetite suppressant.
When cortisol increases, blood sugar goes up, and that causes insulin to be secreted.
9) CRH and Hormones
My clients with an overactive nervous system tend to have hormonal issues. Some of these effects are likely mediated by CRH.
What’s interesting is that the effects of CRH tend to mimic what I see is imbalanced in clients. I previously thought that this was the main mechanism, but I have learned that other mechanisms also play a role.
- CRH increases ACTH, Cortisol, and cortisol is most often elevated.
- CRH inhibits GnRH and therefore LH+FSH (by increasing opioids) [R]. GnRH (releases LH, FSH) can’t make its way to the pituitary to release LH and FSH if there’s increased CRH [R].
- CRH inhibits GHRH in males, but not in females. GHRH is needed to produce growth hormone, and it increases slow wave sleep. More significantly, stress increases GnIH, which directly inhibits GnRH [R].
- In monkeys, CRH injection lowers Testosterone [R].
- CRH decreases progesterone [R],
- CRH decreases Growth Hormone [R],
- CRH increases estrogen [R]
- CRH increases prolactin [R]
- Higher CRH levels in mothers cause higher adiponectin in offspring [R].
- CRH increases NPY [R]
- CRH inhibits estrogen and progesterone production in female reproductive cells, presumably having a negative impact on fertility [R]
10) CRH and Decreased Libido and Fertility
There is considerable evidence that stress has a major negative effect on reproduction [R].
Intense or prolonged stress has been shown to inhibit gonadotropin (LH, FSH, hCG) secretion.
CRH has been implicated as a major inhibitor of reproductive function in both sexes. CRH also decreases libido, which is commonly an issue in my clients.
11) Low Blood Pressure
CRH might cause lower blood pressure, which is common in the anxious and fatigued phenotypical client of mine.
Experimental evidence suggests that the CRH Receptor 2 may be involved in vasodilation and blood pressure control (urocortin with over 20-fold higher affinity, compared with CRH) [R].
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CRH increases endorphins [R], which can improve our mood.
CRH increases ACTH, Vasopressin [R] and Cortisol, which can be beneficial in certain situations.
Lack of the hormone CRH results in the feelings of extreme tiredness common to people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Lack of CRH is also central to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the feelings of fatigue and depression that plague some patients during winter months.
CRH could enhance superoxide production in certain scenarios (primes macrophages to release superoxide in rabbits) [R]. This can help fight infections.
CRH inhibits Nf-kB in some situations (via POMC) [R] – but it increases it in other ways.
CRH stimulates insulin release and can be anti-diabetic [R].
CRH and Bad Signaling
Chronic stress increases CRH by decreasing negative feedback. CRH will not be inhibited by cortisol like it normally should [R].
Normally, after CRH is released, there’s also a spike in ACTH and cortisol, which feeds back to reduce CRH if you aren’t ‘resistant’ or ‘insensitive’ to the negative feedback from cortisol.
But if this negative feedback isn’t solid because of chronic stress and genetics then cortisol won’t reduce CRH by as much as it should.
This will occur when the cortisol (glucocorticoid) receptors aren’t functioning right. The result is too much CRH.
The other problem people have is when CRH doesn’t produce enough cortisol, so more CRH has to be produced for a given amount of cortisol [R].
In both cases, excess CRH is produced.
In people with major depression, CRH doesn’t produce enough ACTH (and cortisol) [R].
Chronic mild stress (in mice) causes cortisol resistance by increasing nitric oxide in the hippocampus (via activating mineralocorticoid receptor), which decreases the cortisol/glucocorticoid receptors (via cGMP and peroxynitrite). This elevates CRH [R].
What Increases CRH
See this post for a full list. This is only a partial list. Most of the time, anything that raises cortisol, raises CRH.
Cortisol/Glucocorticoids inhibit CRH production in the hypothalamus. However, in the amygdala – a brain region involved in the behavioral stress response – cortisol increases CRH, leading to anxiety and fear [R].
Acetylcholine, norepinephrine, histamine, and serotonin increase hypothalamic CRH release, while GABA inhibits it. Angiotensin, vasopressin, neuropeptide-Y, substance P, atrial natriuretic peptide, activin, melanin-concentrating hormone and b-endorphin increase CRH [R].
the cAMP is needed produce CRH (R), so forskolin likely increases CRH.
Orexin stimulates CRH via OX2R [R].
Β-Amyloid levels directly activate CRH neurons to exacerbate stress responses [R].
What Decreases CRH
To see if you have any genes affecting your CRH levels input your genetic data from 23andMe into our software SelfDecode.
CRH levels are influenced by your genes. If you’ve gotten your genes sequenced, SelfDecode can help you determine if your levels are high or low as a result of your genes, and then pinpoint what you can do about it.