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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
A teenage girl suffering from multiple seizures a day spends two weeks in one of the top clinics in the world. There she undergoes about $100,000 worth of testing and is seen by multiple specialists, many of whom witness her having the seizures. However, brain scans and EEG testing show no evidence of a seizure disorder and she is sent home with an anxiety diagnosis.
After a functional medicine neurology visit and three weeks on a gluten-free anti-inflammatory diet, plus some supplements to tame inflammation and support brain health, the seizures stop completely. They return only briefly when she goes off her diet during a holiday and eats foods that trigger inflammation in her brain causing it to seize again.
Why would a conventional medicine approach involving tens of thousands of dollars and multiple specialists turn up empty while functional neurology produced a simple solution?
The answer lies within how conventional medical doctors are required to give a diagnosis that conforms to ICD-10 codes. ICD-10 stands for the International Classification of Diseases.
The ICD-10 is a system all medical doctors in the United States are required to use to classify and code diagnoses, symptoms, and medical procedures. It is copyrighted from the World Health Organization and contains about 70,000 different codes doctorsmust choose from (compared to about 14,000 with the previous ICD-9 version).
And yet with so many disorders to choose from for a diagnosis, physicians were unable to find a proper one for a girl having multiple seizures a day.
Functional neurology fills a large void in medicine.
Functional neurology and functional medicine fill a large and ever growing void in the world of conventional medicine - disorders of inflammation. Depending on whether or how health insurance is used, functional neurology in practice is not always required to conform to ICD-10 codes.
In the case of the girl having seizures, it turns out gluten was the primary trigger of her seizures. There is no ICD-10 code for this when test results are negative as hers were, yet people can have extreme neurological reactions to gluten due to a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
In fact, research shows the tissue in the body most damaged by an immune reaction to gluten is neurological tissue. Dairy is another common and potent trigger. Gluten and dairy trigger a wide range of neurological disorders, including tics, obsessive compulsive behavior, movement disorders, memory loss, migraines, seizures, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even schizophrenia.
However, if neurological damage does not show up on approved testing, doctors cannot make a diagnosis. This proves extremely unfortunate for many patients. For instance, about 90 percent of nerve sheaths have to be damaged before the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis shows up on a brain scan.
In functional neurology we catch the people who fall through these cracks. We are seeing an explosion in disorders related to inflammation and autoimmunity thanks to the many environmental and dietary triggers so common today. Autoimmunity happens when an imbalanced immune system goes haywire and attacks and destroys tissue in the body.
Patients struggling to recover from brain injuries are told nothing can be done when, in fact, research shows nutritional therapy and brain rehabilitation strategies can help them recover their brain health.
People alarmed at perpetual brain fog, memory loss, and confusion are not too far gone to warrant intervention for advanced brain degeneration.
Patients often have a strong intuitive knowing when something isn't right with their brain health, and there is often something that can be done to improve it, even if that something does not have an ICD-10 code. Although we depend on conventional medicine for the excellent care they provide in acute situations, you do not need to suffer through years of misery and ever declining performance until you become an acute case too.
Ask my office how functional neurology and functional medicine can help you regain back your health and your brain function. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com call our office at 317-848-6000 to schedule an appointment.
Does your child have ADHD, autism, Tourette's, OCD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, or another brain-based disorder? Or are you having second thoughts about conceiving because the risks of giving birth to a child who develops autism, ADHD, or other brain development disorders is so much higher today?
Some couples today are choosing not to have children because the risk of autism, ADHD and other disorders is so much higher today. Autism and ADHD rates continue to rise and ADHD now affects 11 percent of children. Research shows environmental and lifestyle factors influence childhood brain development and many cases can be prevented prior to conception if parents tend to their immune health..
Environmental and lifestyle influences on genes
A parent's diet, physical activity, stress hormone levels, immune health, and exposure to environmental chemicals can affect a child's brain development beginning in utero. This is called epigenetics - when environmental factors influence gene expression. It doesn't mean genes are mutated, but instead diet and lifestyle determine whether genes turn on or off. If we turn off the genes for healthy brain development in the mother or the father before conception, those genes can pass on to the children in the turned-off position. Researchers have been able to trace this in up to 11 generations.
Simply improving the maternal diet before pregnancy can alter gene expression in the offspring and their susceptibility to certain diseases for up to four or five generations. Epigenetics means couples can reduce the risk of giving birth to a child who will develop a disorder by choosing dietary and lifestyle factors that favor healthy brain development.
Using functional neurology to help children's brains We can also positively influence genes after the child is born by removing inflammatory foods, supporting good nutrition and brain health, and activating specific areas of the brain to recover missed stages of development (such as learning to crawl) in functional neurology.
Early childhood milestones are vital to proper brain development and meeting them too late, too soon, or not at all is typical for many children with autism, ADHD, and other brain development disorders. Functional neurology is yielding unprecedented results in these arenas.
Dropped connections in the brain
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres that work together. It is the ability of the human brain to fire in both hemispheres simultaneously that distinguishes us from other species. The slightest disruption in the timing of this firing can have devastating affects on brain function. In autism, ADHD, Tourette's, OCD, and other brain development disorders the brain is extremely good at firing short-range connections within one hemisphere of the brain, which may make a child gifted in particular areas, such as math.
However, we see poor simultaneous firing of long-range connections between the left and right hemispheres. This poor long-range firing is also evidenced by a smaller than normal corpus callosum in children with autism, the bridge between the left and right hemispheres across which communication travels. This poor long-range firing can begin in utero or during the first few years of life due to epigenetic influences.
The left brain is responsible for math, sciences, and language, whereas the right brain is responsible for art, creativity, and social skills. Brain disorders such as autism and ADHD are left brain dominant issues, which explains why a student might do well in school but have no social or relationship skills.
As a result of this lopsided stimulation, one side of the brain may become over developed while the other side never catches up to normal, which makes communication between the two sides difficult. It's like a brand new computer trying to communicate with an old, outdated computer.
Imbalanced development of the autonomic nervous system, which governs our "fight or flight," "rest and digest," or "freeze" mechanisms is another factor that affects the development of the brain. These imbalances can be seen as early as in newborns by a practitioner who understands early brain development.
In autism, ADHD, Tourette's, and OCD, we see a left brain that is overdeveloped compared to a weaker right brain. This explains why these children have unusually strong skills in some areas and unusually weak skills in others. Dyslexia or learning and processing disorders are examples of right brain over development. Researchers have been able to identify these imbalances by looking at how different areas of the brain vary in size, electrical imbalances, and concentrations of blood flow.
Although this is an overly simplified explanation, it introduces you the concepts of how subtle imbalances early in life can lead to significant brain disorders as the child matures.
Ask my office for advice on how functional neurology can help you improve your child's brain before you even conceive, or help rehabilitate your child's brain if you suspect a brain development disorder. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When something stressful happens, our body goes into "fight or flight" mode, pumping out stress hormones, raising blood pressure and pulse, and shunting blood away from the organs and towards the limbs. When the stress is over, a healthy body bounces back and returns to normal.
Unfortunately, many people are stuck in fight-or-flight mode. This is especially true in people dealing with a chronic health or brain disorder, as their health itself is a chronic stressor in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.
The autonomic nervous system, which runs such bodily functions as digestion, heart beat, breathing, etc., consists of two arms:
- The sympathetic system, also known as the fight-or-flight system.
- The parasympathetic system, also known as rest-and-digest system.
When you're in a life-or-death situation, you don't need to digest, detoxify, or regenerate cells - duties for the parasympathetic rest-and-digest system. The priority is simply to keep you alive. Once you're safe, the parasympathetic system kicks back in.
The problem is modern life has many of us on hyper drive, in what feels like an ongoing attack. This keeps us in sympathetic mode longer than we should be.
Causes of chronic fight-or-flight mode
It's not just daily stress that can keep a person stuck in sympathetic mode. It could be stress from the past that has been hardwired into your brain, a concept referred to as negative plasticity. The neuron pathways in your brain have become highly efficient at stress so it takes less and less to trigger a stress response.
The most common example of this is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It can also come from long periods of overwork and sleep deprivation that have essentially trained your brain to be agitated all the time, even though your health is being sacrificed.
Signs of chronic sympathetic stress
Signs you are stuck in sympathetic mode include problems with sleep, anxiety, blood sugar issues (even with a blood-sugar-balancing diet), sexual dysfunction, brain fog, memory issues, fatigue, difficulty recovering from exercise or stressful events, getting sick easily, and chronic pain.
Chronic sympathetic stress not only creates negative plasticity, it also damages the gut lining, leading to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, where they trigger inflammation. This chronic inflammation is the foundation to many health maladies.
Getting out of chronic sympathetic stress mode
The most obvious first step to managing sympathetic stress is to address the cause of stress. The cause can be metabolic,
such as chronic infection, blood sugar issues, hormone deficiencies, inflammation, or undiagnosed autoimmunity. Or it can be lifestyle, such as a toxic job or relationship, not sleeping enough, or taking on too much to do and never taking time off. Another commonly overlooked cause is a brain-based disorder. The less healthy or more degenerated the brain is, the less able it is to dampen sympathetic stress.
If you suffer from brain fog, memory loss, poor cognitive skills, and lack of brain endurance, you may also find you're often in fight-or-flight mode. Problems with your vestibular (inner ear) system or cerebellum, both of which play a role in balance, can cause chronic sympathetic stress because the brain is constantly feeling unbalanced. People may also have issues with the basal ganglia - which acts as the gas and brake pedal of the brain - that keeps them chronically stressed out. These are just a few ways in which a brain-based disorder can contribute to sympathetic stress.
In functional neurology we look at all facets of health to help you unwind sympathetic stress. Sometimes the issue can be as simple as removing certain foods from your diet that are inflaming your body and brain, gluten being the most common.
Other times it takes a neurological exam and some sleuthing to determine whether the issue is brain-based. Often it is a combination of metabolic and brain-based causes.
Ask my office how we can help get you out of chronic sympathetic stress and into a more balanced neurological state that includes plenty of restful and restorative parasympathetic activation.You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at email@example.com.
You don't have to have to receive a concussion diagnosis to have an injured brain. Small but repeated insults to the brain - falls, crashes, whiplash, being near explosions, landing on your tailbone - damage brain tissue. Even if the head is not directly hit, a blow or jolt to the body causes the brain to bang around in the skull and sustain damage.
Each insult may not be severe enough for a diagnosis on its own, but added together over time they can cause long term problems and raise the risk of dementia and other brain-related disorders.
Some immediate symptoms may be obvious, such as headache, feeling of pressure in the head, changes in vision, or dizziness. Some are less obviously related, such as increased irritability, anxiety, moodiness, fatigue, sleep problems, or lack of focus. But it's also possible to have no symptoms at all despite damage to the brain.
The standard health care model does not assess the brain when addressing blows to the body. For instance, with whiplash the neck is cared for or with a back injury the back is addressed. But potential damage to the brain is ignored.
Each insult to the brain causes inflammation. Unlike the body, the brain's immune system does not have an off switch and inflammation can go on for weeks, months, and even years, especially in a brain environment that is unhealthy or when injuries are repeated.
Over time this inflammation damages and destroys brain tissue, leading to declining brain function and an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer's and other brain disorders.
Health of the brain before trauma matters greatly
Additionally, if your brain health is poor to begin with, your brain is going to fare much worse from a minor trauma than if it were healthy.
Researchers call this "diminished brain resilience." This means the brain's general health is compromised and thus less resilient to any traumas it may sustain. This explain why one person can bounce back from a head injury while another person disintegrates physically and mentally after a head injury of equal severity.
Factors that can diminish brain resilience include junk foods, too much sugar, not enough whole foods or vegetables, unhealthy fats, blood sugar that is always too high or low (or swings between both), food sensitivities, chronic inflammation, hormone deficiencies and imbalances, sleep deprivation, high stress, being sedentary, and many more.
Basically, the standard American diet and lifestyle is brutal for the brain, and sustaining a brain injury with this kind of poor support means you will fare much worse than you need to.
Functional medicine basics of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, maintaining a healthy gut, and tending to the health and balance of your entire body is the best way to not only better protect your brain in the event of an injury, but also help it recover from past injuries.
Functional neurology is a great way to identify and rehabilitate the areas of your brain most affected. Functional medicine addresses the health of the body as a whole, which supports the brain. Ask my office for more advice. You can contact Dr. Ralston directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.