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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 your heart and digestive system, or the rhythm of your 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 to 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 in your body.
The firing of nerve impulses amplifies and develops the pathways along which the impulses travel. In other words, repeating a phone number or hitting a free throw strengthens the neural pathway so it will be stronger 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 and then travel through the spinal cord to your brain. This influx of nerve supply to your brain is critical for your brain to function. So much so that the highest sensory input to the brain, the fifth cranial nerve, is the dividing line for brain activity. If an injury above this point prevents sensory information from reaching the brain, it shuts down. If the same brain injury occurs 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 runs 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 that fuel is movement. Movement, he says in his 2008 book Brain Rules, “acts directly on the brain’s own molecular machinery. It increases the generation, survival, and resistance of neurons to damage and stress.”
Movement, the nervous system and the sixth sense: proprioception
The sixth sense is a basic function of your nervous system called proprioception. It’s how you know where to place your feet when you walk, how a swing can squish a club into the path of an incoming ball, and how you can touch both fingers together behind your head without looking. Proprioception is your body’s ability to know 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 The Neurophysics of Human Behavior, state that throughout the nervous system, there are trillions of pieces of information flowing through your nerves. Of these, we are consciously aware of about fifty at any given time. The constant evaluation of motion information through the proprioceptive part of your nervous system is similar behind the scenes. However, it has a strong effect on your health.
The authors of this program, wellness chiropractors, have seen firsthand how proper nervous system function and proprioception are essential 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 the effect of proprioception was and its contribution to the key element of nerve supply in overall health. “Better than 90 percent of the brain’s energy output is used relative to the physical body in its gravitational field. The more mechanically deformed a person is, the less energy is available for thought, metabolism, and healing.”
Unconscious understanding of body positions and movements has always been the critical element of any moving animal species. 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 integral to regulating your body’s ability to handle stress.
Stress and your nervous system
Ultimately, it is your nervous system that is responsible for managing 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. Once your body experiences stress, however, 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 asleep are two separate and distinct states, being stressed and being in a state of healing and recovery 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. This means breaking down tissue, preparing to burn energy, and preparing to move. Blood is sent to muscles, away from organs, blood pressure rises as blood vessels constrict, digestion slows and immune responses weaken as the body prepares for action. This feeling of anxiety, often referred to as the fight-or-flight response or fight-or-flight anxiety, is directed 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 the thought of a stressful event will cause you to experience the effect of the sympathetic nervous system on your body.
To do this, however, comes at a cost. Consuming energy to deal with a threat means interrupting rest and repair activities. Sympathetic nervous system activity has an opposing system in your body dedicated to rest and recovery called the parasympathetic nervous system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the activity of digestion, relaxation and reproduction. This is the system that activates your body 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 recovery.
Research over the past twenty-five years has shown how far-reaching is the influence of your nervous system on the functioning of two other “supersystems” within your body: your immune system and your endocrine or hormonal system.
The hard-wired connection between your hormones, immune system and nervous system
About twenty-five years ago, mainstream science did not understand the close connection between the immune and nervous systems. Chiropractic patients, however, have been reaping the benefits of improved nervous system function for decades before that. Check out this example of the life-saving results patients of chiropractors, doctors trained to remove interference from the nervous system, 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 found in your body, including the network of lymph nodes, thymus, spleen and bone marrow, and especially in 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 prone to getting sick when you are stressed. During a stressful period, you shift into a more sympathetic fight-or-flight mode, promoting the release of stress hormones. The chronic release of the stress hormone makes you more able to deal with stress symptoms and more prone to illness.
Today, research showing how the immune system, the hormonal system, and the nervous system are tightly interconnected continues to grow. To read more, check out these links on this growing field of psychoneuroimmunology.
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