Recently I was away for 5 days on a training course continuing my education into mechanisms of how and why the brain and body work and interact the way that they do. This training was being put on by Steve Osborne and Gareth Cox of Cardiff Pain and Performance who are big into something that they term neurological health.
So what is neurological health? What does it mean? And does this influence me? Should I be concerned about it? Absolutely.
Neurological health refers to how your nervous system interprets and responds to information that comes into us from the outside world and internal feedback. If it interprets any of this sensory information as a threat then the brain will respond by ramping up our sympathetic nervous system which in essence is our fight or flight response. So if we are continually getting information that is perceived as dangerous this will start to cause a disruption to our systems homeostasis and disrupt things like digestion and bowel movements, sleep quality, susceptibility to illness, healing times, tolerance of stress, and so on.
This state will make it more likely that you will develop something like leaky gut as being in this ramped up state influences the permeability of the gut lining. This is due to the detrimental long term affects of stress hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol which are released when in response to the fight or flight response. In addition the release of cytokines (cell signalling proteins) can lead to a detrimental inflammatory response. The release of these hormones down regulates digestion and bowel movements as the brain perceives a threat to survival and so digestion is not the top of the list of priorities. Working on gut health will certainly help mediate these responses however if you don’t identify the stimulus that is creating the fight or flight response then this will only manage the problem. It is only by identifying the source of the stressors to the nervous system that are responsible for this reaction that you can make a long lasting change.
The long term production and influence of cell cytokines can lead to systemic inflammation which see an increase in immune response as the body tries to bring the inflammatory response back under control. Being in an inflamed state will impair healing times and in some cases lead to more damage as the body attempts to combat a problem that it is sensing. This in turn leads to an increase in activity in glial cells which are part of the central nervous system that help protect the neurons. The increased glial cell activity, in response to signals derived from the immune system, produce an array of inflammatory molecules that increase blood brain barrier permeability and promote lymphocyte trafficking and persistence. If the blood brain barrier becomes compromised then this allows the passage of toxins and larger molecules into the brain that can cause problems. There is lots of research currently being undertaken to investigate the role of increased blood brain barrier permeability and its potential role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. People may commonly experience symptoms such as brain fog if there nervous system is experiencing inflammation.
Pretty detrimental right? And the truth of it is that a LOT of people out there are walking around in a fight or flight state. This is as a result of cumulative stressors in our lives, our often poor diets, and continual sensory inputs from things like phones and computers, which subject us to blue light.
Unfortunately if you are in this state then this makes you more susceptible to injury and more likely to experience pain as your central nervous system is ramped so high that it struggles to deal with, and fully resolve, injuries that you may experience. But fortunately there are a few relatively simple things that you can do to start combating systemic inflammation which help calm the whole system down. What is more surprising is that few people know about them and instead they go to the doctors who are often little help.
There is now a wealth of (Western) research that shows that grounding, or earthing, and also red light therapy (at certain frequencies) are hugely beneficial in combating inflammation as well as reducing recovery times. (Actually to the point that some athletes are using red light therapy to help improve recovery times so that they can train harder.) For those interested in the research behind grounding and red light therapy then I put links below to a couple of research articles.
More info on red light therapy can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288797/
There are a number of earthing “devices” that can be bought to go in shoes, or worn, that try to simulate the effect of getting your feet in contact with the earth which may be more suitable depending on the time of year and where in the world you live. Recommendations are typically 15 minutes a day.
Similarly with red light research has shown that this is frequency and dose dependent, but the required times are small typically needing only 5-10 minutes daily for the desired effect.
Simply put if you are in a stressed out state, or if you are suffering from chronic inflammation, then you are more likely to not only experience pain, but also from things such as IBS and leaky gut. The key to getting on top of this is to use techniques such as red light therapy and earthing to combat the inflammation and get your body operating from a better place again. Less inflammation = less likely to develop or experience pain.
How does this relate to pain I hear you ask. Well when we suffer an injury if we are in a stressed or inflamed state then we have less ability to be able to process what has happened and a suppressed response. When you experience in this state you are more likely to not heal completely as the body is in a constant fight or flight response and so your brain can end up interpreting the now healed spot as still injured creating either a faulty movement pattern or pain.
If you are curious as to how stressed your system may be then there is a simple test that involves two people and that is to test your ability to multitask. If an individual is only able to perform 1 or 2 tasks simultaneously then this shows that their system is stressed. If it is 3 or above then that is pretty good and anything above 5 is really good. Examples of this may be to get the individual to push their arms in different directions (2 tasks), count down from 20 in 2's (that's 3), get them to scruch their toes (that's 4), look left and right (that's 5), and so on. If you are able to improve your ability to multitask then this will make you day to day functioning more easy and manageable. Give it a go and see what you get.
If this sounds familiar or prompts questions then please get in contact at email@example.com