Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Welcome to the Fabulous Vagus Nerve

The last post discussed how our nervous system interprets and handles different types of stress (physical, emotional, and chemical). There is a fine balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems ("Gas vs. Brake Pedal"), and how our body responds to stress. This week we are going to touch on the Vagus nerve, which acts as an internal brake pedal.

The Vagus nerve is a long, wandering nerve that sends branches to almost every organ and gland in our thorax and abdomen. It is the 10th cranial nerve starting in the brain stem, exiting out through the skull (jugular foreman), and traveling down to the throat, chest, diaphragm, and abdomen. Below is an image of where some of the Vagus nerve's branches go.

With so many branches the Vagus nerve has to relay information to and from the brain to control a variety of functions.

Vagus Nerve Communication Pathways:
  1. Brain to Body - Our brain informs the body that everything is safe in the environment and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and digest") to control our throat, esophagus, heart, lungs, diaphragm, stomach, and intestines. Allowing the body to absorb, digest, grow, heal, and build a healthy immune system. 
  2. Body to Brain - Our body interprets the world around us sending information about pain, temperature, and touch from the ear, throat, chest and abdominal organs up to the brain.
Vagus Nerve Functions:

  • Anti-stress hormone production (acetylcholine and oxytocin) 
  • Swallowing and digesting food
  • Keeping our heart beating and lungs breathing 
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Supporting immune and stem cell function

Vagus nerve's ability to decrease inflammation is a critical component to pump the brakes, which allows the body to properly grow and develop. In a study comparing two rats in the same environment, one had its Vagus nerve stimulated and the other turned off. The rat with its Vagus nerve stimulated had drastically decreased gut inflammation and improved immune function compared to the other rat. How does Vagus nerve get turned off? Based on its geography as it exits the skull it is prone to physical stress from birth trauma. When it is turned off the body is stuck in a stressful "fight or flight" state. This imbalance will impact the child's ability to develop and interact with their environment.

Results of a Turned Off Vagus Nerve:

  • Decreased...
    • Social, emotional recognition and expression
    • Speech and communication
    • Sensory regulation
    • Calm and relaxation
    • Slowing down heart and breathing
    • Digestion motility and relaxation
    • Immune boosting and anti-inflammatory

When children present with a few or all of theses changes they are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therefore, having your child's nervous system checked for stress and subluxations will determine the health of their Vagus nerve. With care their nervous system will start to heal as it switches from gas pedal/"fight or flight" to a brake pedal/"rest and digest" state, which promotes healing and relaxation. Ultimately, allowing them to grow and flourish in their world!

For more information on the nervous system, kids health, and much more please check out our Perfect Storm Workshop. http://www.bluehillschiropractic.com/perfectstorm.html

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Running on Empty: How Stress Impacts the Nervous System

One of our key focuses as a pediatric clinic is supporting the developing nervous system. As most parents, teachers, and health providers can attest there has been a drastic increase in the number of chronic pediatric conditions within in the past decade. Whether it be autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression, asthma, ear infections, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Most of our patients have been diagnosed with one of these conditions when they come to the clinic. As chiropractors, we focus less on the "labels" and more so on the neurological adaptations their bodies have undergone due to chronic stress. 

Our first step is to determine the unique stressors that trigger neurological change. We typically encounter three main categories of stress:
  1. Traumas/Physical 
    • Birth 
    • Trips and falls
    • Posture
  2. Toxins/Chemical
    • Pollution (air, soil, and water)
    • Nutritional deficiencies and food choices
    • Vaccines 
  3. Thoughts/Emotional
    • Stressful pregnancy and birth
    • Anxiety about school, sports, work
    • Stress at home, school, friends
Each of these stressors may create an imbalance in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS controls the body's automatic responses in the organs, glands, and blood vessels. There are two branches of the ANS:
  1. Sympathetic Nervous System: Fight or Flight/ Gas Pedal
  2. Parasympathetic Nervous System: Rest and Digest/ Brake Pedal
Both systems are integral to our survival, but they cannot be active at the same time. We should spend the most time in a Brake Pedal state (80%) and less time in the Gas Pedal state (20%). However, the stressors (stressful birth and delivery, constant worrying, skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, rushing to activities, etc.) we encounter tend to send our systems into sympathetic overdrive/always stepping on the gas pedal. This sympathetic shift occurs anytime our body perceives a threat and needs to enter protection mode (fight or flight), which causes our an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, as well as a decrease in blood sent to our brain and digestive organs. In these "stressful" events our body is shunting blood away from areas that promote growth and development. It is especially important for our mamas-to-be and kids to be in the Brake Pedal state as much as possible to promote a healthy functioning nervous, immune, and digestive systems. 

Ways to Step on the Brakes:

  1. Getting adjusted - Resets the nervous system and promotes a Brake Pedal state. 
  2. Belly breathing - Placing one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Focus on which hand raises first. It should be the tummy hand. If it isn't, try again. With every belly breath, you are increasing the amount of oxygen circulating throughout your body, which promotes relaxation.
  3. Bach's Rescue Remedy - Gentle homeopathic remedy that helps reduce stress and anxiety (kid, adult, and pet friendly options) http://www.bachflower.com/rescue-remedy-information
  4. Get outside - Play at the park, walk, or jog. Getting out into nature helps improve breathing and circulation. Spending time with family and friends is a bonus. 
  5. Hugs - Giving a loved one a 30 second hug releases oxytocin. This hormone is released when the body is a in safe, relaxed place. Simply hugging your child or partner will create a calming effect for both of you.