Is your brain not working, severely impacting your quality of life, but it’s not bad enough to warrant medical treatment? It is very distressing when you become increasingly moody, you keep losing your keys or forgetting where you parked the car, or you’re tired and always in pain. However, chances are if you see a doctor or neurologist for these issues, testing will show you’re fine. You may even be told it’s normal to feel that way.
In functional neurology we take these kinds of symptoms seriously. Everything about your life reflects your brain health. Compromised brain health can be as basic — and serious — as having lost motivation, not being able to accomplish what you want, the feeling life is flat, not wanting to go out and socialize, dealing with memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and so on. These are all issues that affect our experience on the deepest levels while we are alive, yet aren’t going to show up on an MRI.
In functional neurology, we help take the mystery out of your suffering. Through an in-depth neurological exam and, if necessary, functional medicine lab testing, we can identify areas of the brain associated with your symptoms that aren’t working properly. Having a concrete reason for what is robbing you of your quality of life helps people feel more invested in and empowered by rehabilitation.
This differs from a conventional medical approach in which, for example, you might be given a drug such as an antidepressant. That drug will bathe the entire brain with compounds in the hope it will improve function in the affected area of the brain causing problems.
However, in functional neurology, we can identify which area of the brain has compromised function and either activate or dampen that specific area as needed.
For instance, decreased activity in the left frontal lobe (forehead area) can present as depression. Instead of bathing the entire brain an anti-depressant or even a neurotransmitter supplement, we can give the patient rehabilitation exercises to target that area of the brain specifically.
Not only will this relieve symptoms, but it will improve the overall health of the brain and likely relieve other symptoms as well. Because all areas of the brain are so highly connected with one another, when function is low in one area, the whole brain can suffer.
While conventional neurology and medicine isdesigned to spot diseases and pathology, it often can’t diagnose a problem unless it has advanced significantly. For instance, for multiple sclerosis to show up on an MRI, about 90 percent of the nerve sheathes have to be destroyed by autoimmune attacks, even though patients may suffer from increasingly worsening symptoms for years prior. In functional neurology, we can screen for autoimmune attacks against brain tissue with just one test.
Sometimes conventional testing simply isn’t appropriate for common brain disorders. A study looking at brain scans for migraines, for example, showed only 1 to 3 percent showed abnormalities, and most of those abnormalities were not even related to migraines. That’s because the areas of the brain that could prevent a migraine often look normal in a scan even when they’re not doing their job; they’re either dormant or not firing correctly. The same can be said for scans of patients with ADD or ADHD.
Functional neurology helps by taking unhealthy neurons and making them healthier, as well as helping various areas of the brain better synchronize with one another for a more harmonious “neurological orchestra.”
Functional neurology is also different in that we take into consideration metabolic factors. For instance, undiagnosed hypothyroidism, autoimmunity, gluten intolerance, or gut bacteria imbalances all profoundly impact brain health.
If you know your brain isn’t working but your problem isn’t severe enough to be diagnosed or treated by conventional medicine or neurology, ask my office about how functional neurology can help you. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com or call our office to make an appointment at 317-848-6000.
Although brain injury symptoms may subside enough for you to return to daily life, trauma to the brain can continue to subtly wreak havoc on how your body functions and feels for month and even years later. For instance, many people notice their hormone function isn't the same after a brain injury.
Your hormonal command center - the hypothalamus and pituitary gland - is in the brain. Although a head injury may occur in an isolated area, the vast networks of communication across the entire brain mean that damage to one area affects the entire brain. And because the brain runs the body, it only makes sense daily operations of the body take a hit too.
Estimates on how many people suffer from hormone disorders caused by brain injury vary, however, one study of 1,000 patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) found almost 30 percent had compromised pituitary function.
The hormonal systems most impacted are the sex hormones, growth hormones (which adults need for bone and muscle strength), and adrenal, or stress, hormones. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can surface immediately or months or even years later.
Common hormone symptoms related to brain injury include fatigue, weight gain, low blood pressure, low libido, loss of muscle mass, and amenorrhea. Children may have growth problems later.
More severe repercussions can include Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency), diabetes insipidus (which causes intense thirst and heavy urination), or hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium).
How functional neurology and functional medicine can help restore hormone function
Why will two people with the same TBI have two wildly different responses hormonally? In functional neurology and functional medicine, we know one reason is the health of the brain prior to injury. For instance, one person eats a healthy diet, avoids inflammatory foods, isn't already struggling with depression or anxiety, does not have advanced brain inflammation, and exercises regularly. This person may experience a good and swift recovery after a TBI.
However, take the the person who lives on a pizza and mac-and-cheese, unaware that a gluten and dairy sensitivity are causing immune attacks on the brain. They also drink soda every day, sit gaming or working for hours instead of getting any exercise, and work or live in a stressful, toxic environment. This person likely already has hormonal imbalances and a highly inflamed brain. A brain injury is going to be much more devastating as a result.
Also, hormonal status in midlife can play a big role in how the brain responds to injury as the sex hormones are highly protective of the brain. For the woman or man who experiences a steep decline in hormone production in midlife, their brain is much more vulnerable to damage and slower recovery after a TBI.
You may think hormone replacement therapy is the answer, and in some people it may be, but in functional neurology we look at the various dietary and lifestyle conditions that create hormonal imbalances and work to address those.
We customize rehabilitative functional neurology strategies based on the type of damage a patient's brain received and pre-existing metabolic health.
We also examine and address the function of related systems, such as the vestibular system, or inner ear; the vagus nerve, an information highway that connects the brain to the organs; and the visual system. Working with these systems, which are so integral to brain function, is a vital to rehabilitation.
If your hormones have been out of whack since your concussion, or brain injury, ask my office how we can help. You can all our office at 317-848-6000 or contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Back pain complaints are often met with instruction to build up your core strength, and indeed this is important for better stability and protection for your back. But building core strength helps in another important way — it activates areas of the brain that can enhance stability, reduce pain, and naturally improve posture.
When many people think of the core, they think of six-pack abs we see on gym posters. But the core is basically the entire trunk of your body. The core includes the:
Many people develop chronic back pain because of a undiagnosed brain imbalance. The brain coordinates with the eyes and the inner ear to perceive where it is in relation to the environment.
When that information is incorrectly interpreted due to a brain imbalance, the brain may believe the body is falling forward or backwards. To compensate, it adjusts the posture to lean in the opposite direction of the perceived fall. This all happens without a person’s conscious awareness, and can start in infancy.
This constant over correcting creates not only bad posture, but also areas of muscular weakness and tension that affect the spine and other parts of the body, often resulting in chronic pain. These people may also find standing for a short length of time causes fatigue and back pain.
It’s also not uncommon for people with this issue to struggle with anxiety — the constant sense of falling is a source of chronic stressor that can manifest as anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings.
People often report a reduction in back pain and better posture when they take on a core strengthening program. Although strengthening and stretching the core muscles is a vital part of that rehabilitation, it also exercises the midline cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for, among other things, movement, coordination, and posture. By repeatedly activating the core muscles, you are stimulating this part of the brain.
How do you know if brain imbalances play a role in your back pain or posture, and whether core exercises can help you?
The best way is to conduct your own field sobriety test — that’s right, the same one cops give to suspected drunk drivers. This is because being drunk also affects the cerebellum. It’s not uncommon for people with posture and back pain issues to also have poor balance due to a cerebellar issue.
A core strengthening program should emphasize good form so you don’t risk injuring yourself. It should also include attention to stability and alignment. A brain imbalance will often cause a person to stand or lie crooked when they think they are straight because the brain is incorrectly perceiving the body’s position.
Pilates is one excellent core strengthening technique that incorporates these strategies along with mindfulness and breath work, which are also great brain rehabilitators.
If you have back pain, poor balance, anxiety, mood issues, gut problems, a previous brain injury, or other symptoms, a functional neurology rehabilitation protocol may be the vital boost you need. Many times when people get stuck on a functional medicine protocol, it’s because a brain-based issue is promoting inflammation and metabolic imbalances.
Ask my office for more information on how we can help you achieve better brain health. You can reach us at 317-848-6000 or contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
You don't have to receive a blow to the head to suffer from brain injury. In fact, you can even injure your brain while wearing a helmet. This is because brain tissue is very delicate - the consistency of soft butter or egg white - and floats inside a skull lined with hard ridges. Impacts to the body, falls, and neck injuries are all it takes to injure the brain, especially if they happen repeatedly.
Here are some ways you can sustain a brain injury without ever hitting your head:
Hard falls: When you fall your brain slams into one side of your skull and then the other. People who engage in activities that involve falling and crashing regularly (football, extreme sports, roller derby, etc.) should be aware of signs of brain injury, even if they wear a helmet.
Body slams (such as in contact sports): Likewise, full impact hits to the body knock the brain around inside the skull.
Landing on your tailbone: Although landing on your tailbone results in a sore bum, your brain is also victim to the force sent up the spine.
Whiplash: Whiplash is a double whammy to the brain, which is why car accidents can be so devastating even if you didn't directly injure your head. Not only does the whiplash send the brain crashing back and forth inside the skull, but the shearing and twisting forces in the neck can also damage the brain stem. The brain stem may look simply like the connection between the brain and the neck, its an extremely important center of brain function. Damage to the brain stem can cause anxiety, insomnia, extreme moodiness, gut problems, autonomic problems, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds.
Falls and crashes also damage the fragile inner ear, or vestibular system, which plays a vital role in brain function and integrity.
The reason football players and extreme athletes are making headlines is because repeated impacts to the body and head continually inflame and damage the brain, overwhelming its ability to recover until it eventually succumbs to dementia and Alzheimer's.
Brain injury increases risk for more brain injury
One of the most prominent signs of brain injury is worsened balance and coordination. Unfortunately, these symptoms predispose a person to further injure their brain due to increased clumsiness. Just one concussion increases the risk of a second by 150 percent. After two concussions, your risk for a third goes up by 300 percent. This is why it's so important to seek functional neurology and functional medicine interventions right away when you suspect you have injured your brain.
Poor brain health increases brain injury risk
It's not just how many times your brain slams around inside your skull that matters, but also the general health of your brain prior to injury. This is why some people recover more quickly from injury than others. If you eat fast foods regularly, are deficient in vital brain nutrients - such as essential fatty acids and vitamin D have undiagnosed food sensitivities (especially to gluten), or suffer from hormonal imbalances or deficiencies, your brain is going to fare more poorly after an injury.
Because inflammation in the brain does not have an "off switch" the way it does in the body, brain inflammation is like a slow moving fire that can damage tissue for months and even years, causing symptoms long after the insults.
The good news is that for all its fragility, the brain is an amazing organ when it comes to recovery and repair. It will eagerly respond to functional neurology and functional medicine protocols to improve function, dampen disorders, and enhance its overall integrity.
Ask my office how we can help you get back your brain health and function. You can call us at (317) 848-6000 or you can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About one in four Americans suffer from migraines, or head pain that lasts four to 72 hours, in the United States and it's a leading cause of disability. Fortunately, by understanding how metabolic disorders affect the brain, we can use functional neurology and neurochemistry to help many people with migraines find lasting and significant relief.
Many migraine sufferers feel they miss out on much of their lives. It's hard to make commitments to social events, concerts, picnics, or other events because they never know when they'll be felled by a migraine. Many migraine patients are also dependent on one or more drugs to function, and some of these drugs can cause rebound migraines!
When a migraine is coming on or hits, symptoms may include not only pain but also inability to tolerate light or sound, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, numbness and tingling in different parts of the body, visual auras, déjà vu, hallucinations, and more. These symptoms are important clues in functional neurology to help us determine which part of the brain is affected during the migraine. For instance, visual auras indicate an issue in the occipital lobe, which governs vision, while déjà vu signals a migraine affecting the temporal lobe, which plays a role in time perception.
What exactly causes a migraine?
It has long been believed migraines happen when blood vessels to a region of the brain dilate, or enlarge, pressing on nerve fibers around them. However, other research suggests the pain is due not to widening blood vessels but rather extra sensitive nerve fibers surrounding them. Either way, inflammation seems to play a key role in the painful throbbing and pounding. The trick is to find out the underlying cause of the inflammation. This is where functional neurology and functional medicine come in.
Unstable blood sugar
Clinically, we see many cases of migraines significantly improve, if not resolve, simply by stabilizing the patient's blood sugar. Most Americans are on a roller coaster of blood sugar lows and highs thanks to diets that are too high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, and too low in healthy, whole foods.
For others, they eat too little and too infrequently, keeping their body and brain constantly in a state of low blood sugar. For these people, eating small bites of protein more frequently throughout the day can help prevent migraines.
Blood sugar lows and highs are highly stressful and inflammatory to the body and brain and a primary root cause to many chronic health disorders, including migraines. The first step in addressing migraine should always be to stabilize blood sugar and follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
Iron deficiency anemia
Anemia is another commonly overlooked cause of migraines we sometimes see clinically. If a migraine patient tests low in iron, sometimes supplementing with iron can profoundly impact migraine symptoms. Of course, you'll want to address why you have anemia too.
One of the more common, and complicated, causes of migraines in women is a hormone imbalance involving estrogen and progesterone. Hormone imbalances require a comprehensive functional medicine approach to address the reasons for the imbalance - chronic stress, blood sugar imbalances, poor gut health, inflammation, chronic infection, etc. Many women are low in progesterone due to chronic stress, which robs the body of the precursors necessary for progesterone to make stress hormones instead. Other common female hormone issues include excess estrogen, low estrogen, or excess testosterone. Appropriate levels of the sex hormones help regulate the immune system and inflammation.
This is a very cursory overview of some potential mechanisms for migraines, which can be different for everyone. Previous head injuries are another common factor to consider. If you have migraines, ask my office for a consultation.You can contact our office at 317-848-6000 or you can reach Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
Brain inflammation shown to be higher in people with OCD
A recent study showed what functional neurologists have long since observed - obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is linked to brain inflammation. Imaging showed brain inflammation was more than 30 percent higher in subjects with OCD compared to the control group.
The study also found the greater the inflammation the more severe the stress and anxiety around avoiding the compulsive and repetitive rituals that characterize OCD.
Inflammation in the brain is similar to inflammation in the body in that it's necessary to respond to damage. However, unlike the body's immune system, there is no "off" mechanism for inflammation in the brain. This means once triggered, brain inflammation can continue on unchecked long after the original insult.
Unfortunately, many people unwittingly inflame their brain on a regular basis and don't know it. This can cause not only OCD, but also depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, memory loss, fatigue, and even addiction. It also increases the risk of dementia.
Some sources of brain inflammation are obvious, such as head injury. Researchers also have discovered that mild and repetitive blows to the body, falls, crashes, and impacts can also inflame the brain, even if there is no direct injury to the head.
However, other sources of inflammation are well established in studies but don't seem to be on the radar in the standard health care model. This is inflammation caused by food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, chemical intolerances, hormone imbalances, leaky gut, poor gut bacteria health, and brain autoimmunity.
For instance, gluten intolerance is linked to numerous neurological disorders, including OCD, schizophrenia, and depression.
These everyday factors not only inflame the brain, they also make damage from head injuries more severe and recovery more difficult.
Addressing brain inflammation to manage OCD
The OCD study is promising for options in the conventional medical model as drug treatments don't work for about one-third of patients.
Although the study's authors suggested developing new drugs to target brain inflammation, in functional neurology we knowaddressing diet and lifestyle factors are essential to taming inflammation.
For most people, this begins with learning which foods cause an inflammatory response. For many people, gluten and dairy are the two most common culprits,
but soy, corn, eggs, various grains, and other foods may trigger inflammation. The autoimmune paleo diet is a good place to start. Likewise, people can develop an intolerance to chemicals, such as perfumes or plastics, that can trigger inflammation, and should minimize their exposure.
Another common area to address is stabilizing blood sugar that is either too low or too high. This usually means avoiding sugar, lowering carbohydrate consumption, and eating meals at regular intervals.
Repairing gut health is essential to dampen brain inflammation as the gut and the brain have close communication with one another. Damaged and inflamed intestines, bacterial and yeast infections, and not enough good gut bacteria are typical areas of concern.
Good hormone health is necessary to keep brain inflammation in check. For instance, estrogen deficiency in women has been shown to worsen outcomes after head injury. Low thyroid hormones also impact brain health.
Brain autoimmunity, in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys brain tissue, has become increasingly common today and should be screened for with antibody testing.
Lastly, OCD can also arise because of developmental disconnects in the brain that began in infancy. Childhood brain development disorders are skyrocketing these days, and OCD is just one of many brain-based disorders that has its roots in childhood. OCD involves an area of the brain called the basal ganglia and its improper function and connection with other areas of the brain.
In functional neurology we can identify this disconnect and, along with dietary and lifestyle protocols, offer customized rehabilitative exercises to help improve function and dampen or turn off brain inflammation and OCD. Ask my office for more information. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are increasingly learning the effects of traumatic experiences on the brain, and now, newer research shows these effects can be passed on to children's genes. Research of Holocaust survivors showed that compared to control groups, their children exhibited genetic changes that increased the likelihood of stress disorders.
Other research shows post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be passed on to offspring. Plus, most trauma survivors are coping with the neurological effects of PTSD as they raise their children, which greatly shapes a child's environment and responses to stress.
In functional neurology, we frequently work with the neurological fallout of PTSD, which can include not only being triggered to re-experience the trauma, but also heightened stress response, sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds, emotional instability, depression and suicidality, anxiety and insomnia, disassociation and numbness, and addiction. How PTSD manifests depends on the person, and women's symptoms differ from men's. Men are more prone to anger and addiction whereas women struggle more with depression, anxiety, and health ailments.
Trauma turns on and off genes in offspring
In the Holocaust study, researchers discovered genetic differences in offspring of survivors. This finding upended traditionally held notions that environment and experience don't affect DNA in sperm and eggs of parents. Although it has long been believed conception delivers a genetic "clean slate," newer science on epigenetics shows that our environment and experiences constantly modify genes, even in egg and sperm. They found chemical tags on the DNA that regulates stress hormones in Holocaust parents and their children that were not found in the control group. However, they are not sure how those tags get passed on.
Is PTSD inherited?
Studies on whether PTSD is genetically inherited are not yet conclusive, although one study found genetic links in almost
30 percent of European-American women with PTSD. Understanding how big a role genetics plays in trauma would further understanding of why some people get PTSD when others don't, and how best to treat it. Also, researchers point to the fallout for children raised by adults with PTSD, which can perpetuate the disorder.
Functional neurology and PTSD
PTSD causes structural changes to the brain. The disorder shrinks some areas of the brain while enlarging others, keeping a person trapped in a neurological prison of hyper arousal, stress, and fear.
For instance, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex shrinks, predisposing one to extreme fear and anxiety. PTSD also shrinks the hippocampus, the area responsible for learning and memory. On the other hand, the amygdala, the area that governs the fear response, enlarges. Compromises in these and other areas of the brain result in an easily triggered and over exaggerated fear response that can be exhausting and debilitating to the sufferer.
Fortunately, the brain is very responsive to rehabilitation and PTSD sufferers can find considerable relief without drugs. In functional neurology, we use specific exercises and activities to dampen areas of the brain that are over responsive to stress and stimulate those areas that can help control the fear response.
Contact my office for more information at 317-838-6000 or you can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
People feel shame and guilt about their smartphone and digital addictions, but the truth is we are simply at the mercy of how profoundly technology shapes the human brain. It's understandable why digital dementia" - the loss of cognitive function due to excessive digital use, and "digital ADD" are so common today.
As with many great inventions throughout human history, nobody could have predicted such pervasive neurological consequences of the internet, smartphones, video games, and social media. The human brain is so sensitive to manipulation by these tools that one study showed the mere presence of a smartphone impaired cognitive function in subjects, even though it was turned off!
How digital marketers trick the brain into addiction
Although the endless novelty of technology makes it easy for the stimulus-seeking brain to get hooked, digital addiction has also been engineered for commerce and profit. Boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, confusion, indecisiveness - these are inherent to the human condition. However, they are also the bait for digital distraction. Technology's "persuasive designers" use human neurology and psychology - strategies taught at Stanford University in Silicon Valley - to exploit the brain's tendency towards reward- and pleasure-seeking behavior.
Many people are familiar with the rat studies that showed a rat will press the lever that delivers cocaine over the one that delivers food and water all the way to its death. That's how powerful those neurochemical pathways are once activated. You're not getting distracted because you're a weak-willed or lazy person, you're distracted because a relative handful of tech elites have mastered the art of manipulating the human brain - by overriding executive function and appealing to primitive impulses - to hook you and profit them.
How digital ADD leads to digital dementia
Plasticity refers to the brain's ability to create pathways of communication. This is what helps us learn new things and turn conscious actions into automatic habits. The constant and addictive neurological rewards technology offers - notifications, likes, autoplay videos, demanded reciprocity on LinkedIn, Facebook marketing that picks up on insecurity and sells you approval - creates negative plasticity. In other words, these distractions wire our brains to function in new, and unfortunately, worse ways.
Distraction and addiction aren't the only fallouts. Our digital companions also let us download our memory- phone numbers, directions, appointments - thus failing to exercise this vital brain function so that it starts to deteriorate.
Heavy digital use over develops the left side of the brain while neglecting the right side, which is more linked to concentration. Overdevelopment of the left brain at the expense of the right brain can worsen memory and promote depression.
Solutions for tech-addicted brains
We now have entire generations growing up never having known a world without instance digital access. The bad news is research shows the constant use of tech by kids is negatively affecting their brain development. The good news is the creators of the most addictive aspects of technology are themselves alarmed at the neurological and global effects. Many are also parents now and see the damage that can done to the inherently vulnerable brain.
As a result, these pioneers are now voicing concerns about the ethics of digitally addictive features. Tobacco, alcohol, and even opium and cocaine are examples of addictive substances that were once considered benign and beneficial and have since been recognized as risky and destructive. When it comes to easy outs from the daily struggle that fills so many moments of being human, the brain goes for the quickest route to relief.
Functional neurology for addiction recovery support
Although the most obvious solution to outwitting tech addition is to not use it, that is increasingly becoming less realistic. In functional neurology we can support addiction recovery by rehabilitating the areas of the brain involved in compulsion, obsession, concentration, and memory. Ask my office how we can help rehabilitate the tech-addicted brain. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the moment a newborn is placed on its mother's stomach, feels the touch of its parents, and roots and suckles to nurse, the stimulation to the brain from this physical contact is laying the foundation for future brain health and function. In other words, the human brain needs regular healthy touch to develop normally.
Studies show children who are deprived of healthy, loving touch in early life go on to be at greater risk for a number of brain-related disorders, including anxiety, depression, low self-worth, a lower IQ, less empathy, addiction, and mental illness. A greater incidence of general health problems is also a common occurrence.
Functional neurology can help rehab the touch-deprived brain.
Just as we can rehabilitate the brain of a person who has had a stroke or brain injury, so can we rehabilitate the brain of a person who grew up depressed and anxious from lack of health touch in early childhood. Lack of touch, physical violence, and sexual abuse in childhood create pathways in the brain that determine the course of its development, and hence a person's sense of self, emotions, behavior, brain function, and immune function. This leads to certain areas of the brain being under active, while others are over active. We can use functional neurology rehabilitation techniques to activate or dampen different areas as needed. For example, functional neurologists may use eye movements to activate or dampen areas of the brain. Scents, such as an essential oil, can be used to trigger a positive cue to rewire the brain in a healthier direction.
Brain exercises that improve function of the inner ear, or vestibular system and the cerebellum, which both regulate balance, can also help relax and emotionally regulate the hyper vigilant brain of the touch-deprived, anxious individual. These exercises are customized to each person based on how their brain functions.
Everyday ways to rehab the touch-deprived brain.
For instance, consciously practicing generosity can begin to rewire the brain in a healthier way and release dopamine and oxytocin, which can help a person feel better about themselves and those around them. Making time in your schedule to volunteer regularly or to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return is one way to start rewiring your brain. Writing in a gratitude journal for a few minutes once or twice a day is another way to reinforce that.
Retraining how you think is also an important part of this process. Seeing a therapist can help you develop awareness of negative self-talk and strategies to start talking to and thinking about yourself more positively. Positive social support is also vital as the human brain is designed to operate as part of a tribe. Finding a healthy, supportive group of people to get together with regularly will help fill in the gaps created by lack of early healthy touch.
Simply observing others touch and relate to each other in a loving way can activate these under developed and starved areas of the brain. Someone who grew up touch deprived simply may not be able to immediately give and receive non-sexual healthy touch. One way to begin that rehabilitation process is to be in the presence of it so your brain can create a mirroring process for its own neurology.
Get a massage, foot reflexology, and other forms of safe and healthy touch. If you're not in a situation to receive touch from friends or family, investing in a massage can help deliver some of the same benefits.
The suicide of BMX legend Dave Mirra this year has forced an uncomfortable topic to surface - many extreme sport athletes, and the adolescents and weekend warriors they inspire, face a higher risk of long term brain disorders due to repetitive crashes and hits to the head. Suicide rates, for instance, are three times higher in people who have suffered concussions. Other symptoms include mood disorders, bouts of rage, sensitivity to light and sound, fatigue, poor concentration, memory loss, depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, addiction, poor balance, and migraines.
The renegade nature of extreme sports means long term risks of repetitive head injuries are not tracked like they have been in football. From football we have learned that CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head traumas that leads to significant problems later in life. Autopsies of the brains of 94 former professional football players showed 90 of them had CTE.
You don't have to have a concussion to sustain brain injury. And while wearing the best helmet may prevent a skull fracture, it doesn't protect the brain from impact within the skull during a crash after catching big air or face planting on concrete. Twisting, rotation, acceleration, deceleration, and damage to the neck, spine, and inner ear (vestibular system) also impact brain function.
A study analyzing emergency room visits during 10 years saw concussion injuries rising steadily in surfing, mountain biking, motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and skiing. Snowboarding was the most concussive activity.
Not only do these accumulated traumas, both micro and macro, progressively damage the brain, they also foster the development of tau proteins and neurofibrillary tangles, the markers of Alzheimer's disease.
Functional neurology for extreme sports
Functional neurology has treated its fair share of extreme sport athletes. Perhaps one of the bigger tragedies among the sports world is the idea that nothing can be done for head injuries beyond rest. In functional neurology, we know this is far from the case. Not only do we have patient experiences to back this up, but we also have peer reviewed studies on brain inflammation and brain rehabilitation. Brain injuries inflame the brain. However, this inflammation may not turn off, continuing to damage brain tissue like a slow spreading fire.
Some people suffer more than others from brain inflammation due to their diet, food intolerances, hormone imbalances, blood sugar regulation issues, chronic infection, pre-existing brain development disorders (such as ADHD), and so on.
The factors that lead to Alzheimer's disease are the same factors that respond to brain inflammation, which is why it's suggested brain inflammation increases the risk of Alzheimer's.
In functional neurology we assess the chemical environment of the brain - it's nourishment, oxygen, neurotransmitter status, whether dietary or environmental compounds are worsening brain health, and already existing brain development issues.
Also, instead of prescribing blanket treatments for brain injury, we perform thorough examinations to see which areas of the brain are damaged. This includes examining the function of the inner ear, or vestibular system, the fragile system of canals that play a large role in brain function and are easily damaged during impacts. Rehabilitation and nutritional therapy are then customized to target the specific areas of brain compromise.
By quickly addressing brain health after a concussion, a crash, or a series of crashes that seems to have robbed you of "you," you can significantly rehabilitate your brain and dramatically lower your risk of bigger problems in the future, including suicidality and dementia.
As for continuing in extreme sports, that is an individual decision. In the age of GoPro cameras, high-tech gear, viral videos, and fierce competition for few paying gigs, athletes are encouraged to go bigger, faster, and higher with ever increasing risks.
Baseline testing and repeated follow ups will give you a clear indication of whether your lifestyle is damaging your most vital organ. Also, following an anti-inflammatory diet and other brain health lifestyle strategies give the brain its best chances. Ask my office for more advice. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.