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Nervous System Connection – The Brilliant Link Between the Brain and the Body
Ready, signal, fire: Nerve supply
Every activity your body performs is based on the activity of your nervous system. Whether it’s the rhythmic contractions of the heart and digestive systems, or the rhythm of the golf swing, the activity of your nervous system determines how your body functions. Your sensitive nervous system integrates the activity of every cell, tissue and organ system in your body.
The language of the nervous system is the signals sent along the nerve fibers: the nerve impulse. In many ways, nerves act as bundles of wires that carry signals in order to transmit information. As each of the nerve fibers in the bundle sends an impulse or fires, a signal is transmitted so that your body always acts in harmony. As nerve impulses reach their destination, the signals are like on/off switches that regulate and integrate every activity of your body.
The output of nerve impulses strengthens and develops the pathways through which the impulses travel. In other words, repeating a phone number, or taking a free throw, strengthens the neural pathway so that it will be more powerful in the future. In this way, nerve fibers create new pathways and reinforce existing ones to create the ability to learn, move, feel and think.
The nerve supply to your brain is critical
Millions of pieces of information are collected from every part of your body that then travel through the spinal cord to your brain. This input of nerve supply to your brain is critical to the functioning of your brain. So much so that the highest sensory input to the brain, the fifth cranial nerve, is the dividing line for brain activity. If damage above this point would prevent sensory information from reaching the brain, it shuts down. If the same brain damage were to occur below this point, the brain remains active.
In other words, although we know that the brain is a supercomputer that runs the body, it is equally true that the nerve supply from the body is what runs the brain. Your brain drives your body, but your body feeds your brain. And according to Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center at Seattle Pacific University, the most important of this fuel is movement. Movement, he says in his 2008 book Brain Rules, “acts directly on the brain’s own molecular machinery. It increases neuron creation, survival, and resistance to injury and stress.”
Movement, the nervous system and your sixth sense: proprioception
Your sixth sense is a core function of your nervous system called proprioception. It’s how you know where to place your feet when you walk, how a pitcher is able to swing a bat in the path of an incoming ball, and how you can touch two toes together behind your head without looking. Proprioception is your body’s ability to be aware of where it is in space.
Surprisingly, the vast majority of information traveling through your nervous system is below the surface. Furman and Gallo, in their textbook Neurophysics of human behavior, report that throughout the nervous system, there are trillions of pieces of information coursing through your nerves. Of these, we are aware of about fifty at any given time period. The constant evaluation of movement information through the proprioceptive part of your nervous system is similarly behind the scenes. However, it has a powerful impact on your health.
The authors of this program, wellness chiropractors, have seen firsthand how proper nervous system function and proprioception is an essential element to health through working with patients, as chiropractors have seen for over 100 years. Roger Sperry, PhD, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1981 for his work in brain research. Thus he described how important was the influence of proprioception and its contribution to the essential element of nerve supply in general health. “More than 90 percent of the brain’s energy output is used in relation to the physical body in its gravitational field. The more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy is available for thinking, metabolism, and healing. “
Unconscious understanding of body positions and movements has always been a critical element of any animal species in motion. Without it, it is impossible to perform the basic functions of finding food and water, shelter and reproduction. Because of this, the proprioceptive component of your nerve supply is involved in regulating your body’s ability to handle stress.
Stress and your nervous system
After all, it is your nervous system that is responsible for dealing with stress. Stress comes from three categories of sources: chemical, physical and mental. That is, stress results from unhealthy choices in your fuel, air, and spark. However, once your body is faced with stress, there is a common response from your body.
Physiologist Hans Selye was the first to coin the term stress just over fifty years ago. The hallmark of the stress response within your body (the stress response) is the release of stress hormones. As discussed below, the release of these hormones is controlled by your nervous system. When your body perceives something as stress (read: your nervous system senses a stressor), it sends signals to release hormones. These signals are controlled by a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenaline and noradrenaline, also known as epinephrine and norepinephrine, along with cortisol are the initiators of a system-wide stress response in your body.
Fight-or-Flight, Rest and Repair, and Your Nervous System
Just as being awake and being asleep are two separate and distinct states, being stressed and being in a state of healing and repair are two separate and distinct states. When our body is in a state of stress, the symptoms of stress are experienced through hormonal release stimulated by the nervous system, preparing the body for a state of activity. That means loosening up, getting ready to burn some energy, and getting ready to move. Blood is sent to the muscles, away from the organs, blood pressure rises as vessels constrict, digestion slows and immune responses weaken as the body prepares for action. This feeling of stress, often referred to as the fight-or-flight response or fight-or-flight stress, is driven by the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is used by your body in response to stress, or, in other words, anything your body perceives as a threat. Acting intelligently, your body’s response to threats is to prepare for action: fight or flight. Even thinking about a stressful event will cause you to experience the influence of the sympathetic nervous system on your body.
Doing so, however, comes at a cost. Spending energy to deal with a threat means stopping rest and repair activities. Sympathetic nervous system activity has an opposite system in your body dedicated to rest and repair called the parasympathetic nervous system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for digestion, relaxation and reproductive activity. This is the system your body activates during periods of safety for healing, tissue repair and reproduction. To heal and repair effectively, you want to be in a state of rest and repair.
Research over the past twenty-five years has shown how far-reaching is the influence of your nervous system on the function of two other “super-systems” within your body: your immune system and your endocrine, or hormonal, system.
The strong connection between hormones, your immune system and your nervous system
Before about twenty-five years ago, mainstream science did not understand the intimate connection between the immune and nervous systems. However, chiropractors’ patients reaped the benefits of improved nervous system function for decades before that. See this example of the life-saving results that patients of chiropractors, doctors trained to remove interference with nervous system function, had during the 1918 flu pandemic.
In fact, every immune organ in your body is greatly influenced by communication from your nervous system. The immune organs located in your body, including your lymph node network, thymus, spleen and bone marrow, and most importantly your digestive system, have their activity directed by your nervous system.
This connection is also one of the underlying mechanisms that explains why you are more likely to get sick when you are stressed. During a period of stress, you go into a more sympathetic fight-or-flight mode, triggering the release of stress hormones. Chronic stress hormone release makes you more prone to experiencing stress symptoms and more susceptible to illness.
Today, research showing how the immune system, the hormonal system, and the nervous system are linked together continues to grow. To read more, check out these links on this growing field of psychoneuroimmunology.
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