What is the autonomic nervous system?
Our body is such an amazing, intricate machine that when in balance, can make you feel on top of the world and conquer anything! What you may not know is that there is a lot of behind the scenes work that happens unconsciously to help maintain this balance. You may wonder, how does it do this? It’s called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Most of the organs of our body, such as the heart, stomach, lungs, and intestines are regulated by the ANS. For example, we are not even aware when our blood vessels change size, the dilation and constriction of our pupils, or even the inhalation and exhalation of our breath.
Due to life’s stresses and constant demands, it’s no wonder that a lot of us are walking around frazzled and with nervous systems that are out of balance. This is fine for short periods of time, as our body was meant to be able to withstand stress. However, in our modern lifestyles, we seem to be constantly bombarded from all angles with no time to rest and reset. If left unchecked, nervous system imbalances can lead to health consequences in the future, such as digestive issues, mood disorders, anxiety, pain, insomnia, etc.
At Natural Balance, we understand that this can be debilitating and make you feel like you are living an uphill battle every day. We are here to reassure you that we see and successfully treat this regularly.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the ANS and how it works. It is divided into two subsystems- the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Both divisions work together in a checks-and-balances manner to help keep our bodies running optimally. You don’t even have to think about it- amazing, right?
The SNS is known for the “fight or flight” response. When you are under some sort of stress (physical, emotional, infectious, hypoxic, or toxic), this triggers the SNS as an alert for your body to get you out of danger. For a deeper look into how stress affects us on a biological level, please visit our article on HPA axis stress. Typical sympathetic responses include:
- Increased sweating to regulate body temperature
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure to raise supply to skeletal muscles for activity
- Pupils dilate to increase light into the eye and enhance vision
- Increased release of stored glucose to raise energy levels
- Increased release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands to help with “fight or flight” response
- Slower digestion to allow for blood flow to extremities
The PNS is responsible for the “rest and digest” portion of the ANS. When no stress response is being activated, your body uses energy for other processes such as digestion, detoxification, and repair. Typical PNS responses are:
- Decreased sweating
- Digestion increases to allow for proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients
- Decreased heart rate
- Constricted pupils
- Decreased blood pressure
The balance of these two sides of the ANS are essential, and when one runs unchecked for extended periods of time, (due to chronic stress or injury, for example) it can have an adverse effect on your health.
What causes autonomic system imbalance?
Causes of autonomic issues can be related to many conditions including:
- Emotional events
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Cardiometabolic disease (i.e. Diabetes causing neuropathy)
- Procedures that may cause damage to the nerves
- Below are some possible symptoms of ANS dysfunction.
How do we test for this?
Heart Math- This program tests your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is the variability in the time interval between heartbeats. HRV decreases with autonomic dysfunction.
Orthostatics - This includes testing your blood pressure and heart rate in several different positions and seeing the changes that happen when your position is changed. Abnormal blood pressure and heart rate changes may indicate ANS dysfunction.
HIRREM- This modality looks at your brain waves in the different regions of the brain. From the scans, we can then learn whether you are sympathetic or parasympathetic dominant. Patient’s whose sympathetic nervous system are over-activated, we often times recommend treatment sessions with HIRREM. Since the brain controls all of the functions in our body, bringing it back into balance will help restore balance in your body as well. For more information regarding HIRREM, please visit our video.We use all of these tests as both a diagnostic as well as a tracking method while you work with our clinic to provide objective measurements of improvement.
What is the right treatment method?
Once all of your testing is complete, we sit with you to go over them and explain how your symptoms correlate with the objective test findings. We then create a personalized plan for you which includes lifestyle, dietary, and nutraceutical interventions. While you work with our clinic, we will periodically retest you to measure for objective improvements.
If autonomic dysfunction is something you think you are struggling with, please feel free to call our office. To schedule your appointment, please contact our office at (734) 929-2696, extension 11 for new patients. We look forward to working with you!