A Brain on Fire – Part II
Last week we talked about chronic fatigue and some of the factors that lead or influence the development of the illness. If we see chronic fatigue as a product of a dysfunctional interaction between the gut, brain, and immune system then it gives us some likely targets for trying to help people with the illness.
In the future, you’ll see that most conventional medical treatments will be focused on drugs to manipulate the immune system. With the current state of medicine, this is a huge challenge because of how complicated immune regulation is. Cytokines have very different effects depending on their timing and their location. In one spot or time, a cytokine may turn up immune function, while another moment it can turn it down. Precision medicine may provide help in the future, but the availability of current resources makes treating this problem immunologically extremely difficult.
The health of the gut is one of the hottest topics in medicine today. The gut houses a bulk of both nerve tissue and immune tissue. That means that the health of your gut can influence your health far beyond the realm of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Of course, the health of your gut is highly dependent on the food you eat.
One of the biggest trends in gut health is the emergence of a phenomenon known as leaky gut syndrome. When the body is exposed to inflammation, the tight junctions that protect the gut from the outside world get loose. This allows proteins to get out into the bloodstream and activate the immune system to respond. This in turn causes the inflammatory response to continue and create a cycle of inflammation leading to gut damage leading to more inflammation.
Some of the tools being used to affect the gut:
- Anti-inflammatory diet (low glycemic, high vegetable, high omega-3)
- Probiotics and pre-biotics
- Fecal Matter Transplant (sounds crazy, but it is getting a lot of attention for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth)
However, it should be noted that it can take a long time to create lasting change in the health of our gut bacteria.
The HPA Axis
The Hypothalamic-pituitary axis is a fancy term for the place where your brain and your endocrine system meet. Your brain has the capacity to regulate hormone function by constatly monitoring the level of hormones in the blood, and getting neural feedback from nerves like the Vagus nerve.
It all begins with a chunk of your brain called the hypothalamus. While it’s functions and actions exibit an extraordinary amount of complexity, for the purposes of today’s explanation, it’s like the thermostat for your body.
Just like the thermostat of your house reacts to subtle changes to the internal environment and reacts with AC/Heat, your hypothalamus gets signals about your internal environment and tells your pineal gland release powerful hormones into the blood stream.
For years, Chiropractors have been using the HPA axis as the model for how the spine can impact other bodily systems.
Movement vs. Pain
There are 2 terms you need to be familiar with:
Mechanorecption and Nociception
- Mechanorecption – is a type of nerve signal that goes up to the brain whenever a joint or muscle moves. For the purposes of this article, we will call it a movement signal.
- Nociception – a type of nerve signal that indicates noxious stimulus. It’s a signal that fires into the brain whenever there’s an indicator that something is wrong. These nerve signals can create a pain sensation, but they are not synonymous.
The reason this is important is because both are major inputs into the spinal cord and the brain. Both of these signals are kept in a balance that heavily favors mechanoreceptors or movement when healthy. When you have too much noxious input into the brain, you start to affect the body’s thermostat (the hypothalamus) and it disrupts the stress response of the endocrine system.
When the Spine Shifts…..aka how chiropractic can help
Movement nerves fire stronger and faster than noxious nerves. It’s what allows things like physical therapy, massage, and spinal manipulation to be so effective in turning down the volume on pain. There’s some real science behind the idea of “walking it off” when it comes to pain.
When you hit your finger with a hammer, we start to shake our hand violently as a reflex. We do this because that motion/movement of the hand can help overcome some of the pain signals coming from the hand.
When your spine shifts, nociceptors start to fire into the brain to a higher degree. This affects your hypothalamus and disrupts your brain’s ability to regulate inflammation.
When people get their structure corrected, they are allowing their spine to MOVE properly again. That movement restores normal driving signals into the brain and allows the brain to regulate your body better again.
This is one of the reasons that people who have non-spine related conditions seem to respond to Structural Chiropractic.
It’s not that we are treating organic disease, but we are strengthening the spine to allow for better and more effective brain function.
Here’s just a little reality check though…..
We can break the cycle of inflammation for people, but that doesn’t mean that a person will be cured. As a matter of fact, most people will be very unlikely to get a full cure doing one or all of these healing methods.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth, and I’m not here to sell people false hope.
Many people will experience a lot of improvement when they identify the dominant feature of their fatigue, but it doesn’t mean their illness is gone. We have a lot more work to do to fully understand the nature of chronic fatigue.
But if you have a desire for a higher quality of life and a possible chance to experience some healing, this may be a viable start.
Did you like this article? Feel free to share it with the people you care about and see if a Complimentary Consultation is the next step to regain their health.
Dr. Chung is a practicing Structural Chiropractor in the West Palm Beach area. He has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals and is a sought after speaker in health and wellness. Follow his blog at http://chiropractorwellington.com/category/keystone-chiropractic-blog/ or find him on twitter at @drjonathanchung