Nervous System and Brain Health

The nervous system is the most complex system in the body. It contains over 100 billion neurons and 98% of the neurons are located in our brain. We are electrical beings and every part of our body is interconnected by a communication system of nerve cells. Nerve cells communicate through a combination of electrical impulses and chemical messengers. Our nervous systems are what 'wires us together".

The brain is the control center of the body and is protected by our skull. It is amazing that our brain makes up about 2% of our body weight yet uses 25% of our oxygen and 20% of our sugar (and I don't mean candy and cookies). The brain has an extremely high metabolism. The phrase "You are what you eat", couldn't be more true where our brains are concerned.

Several studies have shown strong links between our nutritional intake and various neurological and psychiatric conditions. A junk food diet produces a unhealthy brain. I don't know why people are not more conscious of what they are eating. I wouldn't buy an expensive car and go to Wal-Mart to have the oil changed. So why do Americans eat so much junk food or should I say food lacking in nutritional value. A sound mind and a healthy body is a gift and it is our job to take care of it. So please eat good food!

Understanding our Nervous System - A Very Basic Overview

The nervous system consists of our brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. The nervous system regulates everything that is happening consciously and subconsciously throughout the body. The conscious part of our nervous system is what we process through our senses. It is also how we analyze and remember information, and how we move our muscles to regulate how we walk or ride a bike.

The subconscious nervous system or the autonomic nervous system does everything else. This system is responsible for our subconscious activities like, regulating blood pressure, breathing, sleeping, and digesting our food. The autonomic nervous system has two parts. The sympathetic and parasympathetic system. The sympathetic nervous system (the nervous system affected by my RSD) is the flight or fight part of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system revs us up and the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes us and rebuilds the body.

How the Nervous System Works

Nerves communicate through electrical impulses and chemical messengers. When a neuron or nerve cell gets stimulated, it fires an electrical impulse that moves down the length of its cell and when it gets to the far end, the electrical impulse causes the nerve to release neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) into the gap between itself and the next nerve cell. This gap is referred to as the synapse. I could definitely attest to this - when I was at my worst with my RSD I could tell my sympathetic nervous system was reving up and my parasympathetic nervous system would try to do things and I could almost feel my body lacking in communication and fighting with itself.

The discovery of neurotransmitters greatly increased our understanding of problems that affect the nervous system. Sleep, mood, appetite, and behavior are influenced by the different types of transmitter chemicals being released by our brain and our nerve cells. Some of the major disorders like Depression, Addiction, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's are some of the major disorders known to involve imbalances in neurotransmitters.

Major Neurotransmitters

  • Serotonin - mostly known for being associated with depression, is also responsible for hunger, sleep, the pain response, seizure, and peristalsis. It is also a function of the limbic system and brain.
  • Acetylcholine - mostly involved in memory and muscle movement. It is the primary neurotransmitter of the conscious part of our nervous system. It highly interacts with the autonomic nervous system. This could possibly be why I had an inability to initiate movement with the RSD.
  • Epinephrine and Norepinephrine - responsible for the peripheral nervous system which effects the central nervous system functions that involve respiration and psychomotor activity. It is also one of the primary neurotransmitters in the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Dopamine - responsible for sexual arousal and muscular coordination. It is usually deficient in those who suffer from Parkinson's.
  • Gaba - is best known as an inhibitor of presynpatic transmission or in other words - it keeps the brain from being trigger happy. Gaba is what keeps us from getting overly anxious or stressed and also keeps our minds clear.

There are many other neurotransmitters but these seem to be the most known.

Basic Care of the Nervous System

The nervous system is probably the most nutritionally sensitive system in our body. There are actual physical feelings associated with poor nutrition like fuzzy thinking, absent mindedness, mental confusion, and nervousness. If these problems continue they can turn into chronic problems like insomnia, anxiety, depression and memory loss. Our brains are 70% water and the 50-60% dry weight of the brain is fat. Omega 3 fatty acids make up 35% of the fat in our brains. So drink a 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day and avoid hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids that come from processed and deep fried foods.

Besides fat, the brain needs amino acids from protein. The neurotransmitters are built from amino acids. The brain also needs B Vitamins (which is the first supplement I started taking when I was diagnosed with RSD). B vitamins are involved in helping the formation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin.

The brain also consumes more blood sugar than any other organ. The sugar used by the brain is taken directly from the bloodstream without the need for insulin. The amount of sugar in your blood affects the amount of sugar that reaches your brain. Too much sugar over stimulates the brain which can add to agitation, nervousness, irritability and insomnia. Too little sugar can cause confusion, irritability, shakiness, fatigue and hypoglycemia. I do not mean candy and cookies when I talk about sugars. I am talking about good sugars - complex sugars. Fruits, veggies and whole grains. Tone down the white sugar and high fructose corn syrup. It is also recommended to include proteins and fats with your complex carbohydrates at meals to help stabilize your blood sugar.

Toxins are also extremely damaging to the brain, like petrochemical solvents. Since the nervous system is mostly composed of fats and oils, things like gasoline and stain removers can easily penetrate the skin and affect our nerves.

Heavy metals is another concern. Some metals are good for the body like iron, manganese and zinc. Others like mercury, plutonium and lead are toxic to the body.

What you can do to have a healthy Nervous System

Avoid the following items as much as you can.

  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Chemical solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides
  • Caffeine beverages
  • Refined sugar and white flour
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Animal fats from commercially raised animals

Try to avoid these 3 big problems that affect the nervous system.

  • Manage your stress and avoid that burned out feeling. If you have trouble managing your stress do whatever works for you in helping you relax. Some examples would be - take a deep breath, use adaptogens, take B vitamins, exercise, pamper yourself a little and do a SOQI Session or get a Massage,and try Aromatherapy - smells can be very relaxing.
  • Depression - Unfortunately, millions of Americans are depressed and on anti-depressants and sometimes these drugs can have not so good side effects. They say Serotonin is easy to increase with L-tryptophan an amino acid. You can get a lot of L-tryptophan eating complex carbohydrates, whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Age Related Memory Loss - This is usually caused by oxidative stress or inflammation from free radicals. Eat plenty of antioxidant rich fresh fruits and veggies.

They say attitude is everything. Whether you say you can or whether you say you can't get up that hill - you are definitely right. The healthier we are, the less likely we are to suffer from depression, age related memory loss, or the consequences of repeated long term stress. Nature's Sunshine has several products that support the nervous system, my favorite is Nutri Calm.

Written by Mara Gerke, CA, CNHP, All Rights Reserved.

References: Rudy Kachmann, MD, Steven Horne, Joanne Mied, and my life experiences.