The nervous system is like the motherboard of the body. Without the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves, other body systems wouldn’t function. Your nervous system makes your heart beat, your lungs breathe, and your intestines contract. It’s also one of the most enigmatic systems of the body. Scientists are working around the clock to understand more about how the brain and nervous system function, and come up with better treatments for conditions that effect it. Until we understand more, it’s especially important to care for this vital system.
Here are four facts about your nervous system:
1. Your Brain is Getting Smaller
A baby’s brain almost triples in size during the first year of life. By the age of two, the brain is about 80% the size of an adult brain. Starting at age twenty, we begin to lose neurons instead of gaining them. Neurons are the cells that make up the brain and other nervous tissue. By the time a person turns 75, about 1/10 of their neurons have been lost. Don’t panic! Size isn’t everything. The brain continually builds new neural connections, called neural pathways. Scientists have found that even people with severely shrunken brains can function normally if they have lots of pathways. The same applies to people with brain injuries. New pathways can form around the injured area–like detours in a road– and restore function.
Neural pathways develop slowly but can be encouraged with simple lifestyle habits. Changing your routine and trying new things helps build new pathways. Lifelong learning is important for optimal brain health. People with more education and more intellectually challenging careers tend to experience less mental decline in old age.
Physical fitness also plays a role in keeping you mentally sharp well into your golden years. Studies show that people in good shape and physically active in their forties have younger-looking brains in their sixties. One reason for this may be that people who take good care of themselves are less likely to have vascular conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease. The brain needs healthy blood flow, so problems with the cardiovascular system can also hurt the brain.
2. Your Brain Needs Its Beauty Rest
Sleep is even more important for your brain than for the rest of your body. Your brain cleanses itself of toxins, consolidates memory, and performs other vital maintenance while you sleep. You may have noticed that you feel less “with it” and have problems concentrating after a night of bad sleep. You may also struggle with your mood or feel more hungry. Part of the brain’s job is to regulate hormones like cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin. Those latter two affect your sensations of hunger and fullness. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and if you don’t get enough sleep, you can have too much of it, making you feel cranky or depressed.
Chronic sleep deprivation leads to long-term health concerns like memory problems, hormonal upset, and cardiovascular issues. Obesity and diabetes are both linked to chronic sleep problems. Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to rise, making you feel hungrier. It also messes with insulin, putting you at an increased risk of high blood sugar.
Most people can get a better night’s sleep by reducing stress and practicing good sleep hygiene. That means having a good bedtime routine that includes staying away from screens for at least an hour before bed and sleeping in a cool, darkroom. A mellow yoga routine, meditation session, or relaxing book can help you feel less stressed and anxious. If anxiety or stress interferes with your sleep regularly, consider talking to a healthcare professional.
Holistic treatments like chiropractic adjustment can fix misalignments in your nervous system and help you feel more relaxed. People who receive chiropractic treatment on a regular basis report better sleep than people who don’t.
3. You Have a Second Brain in Your Gut
Scientists have discovered a network of nerves in the gut so vast that they call it a second brain. The phrase “gut feeling” may have some basis, in fact. Our brain and our gut interact in complex ways. Emotions affect the gut, and gut health affects brain function.
The large intestine contains an ecosystem of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This ecosystem is called the microbiome. Some of the residents are “good,” meaning they promote optimal health and others are “bad,” meaning they act as pathogens and can make us sick. Gut bacteria produce and respond to many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain. These include GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. Amazingly, 95% of our serotonin is stored in our gut. This may explain why certain “good” strains of gut bacteria are associated with reduced anxiety, lower body fat, and better sleep.
Keeping your gut healthy can go a long way towards improving brain health. A healthy diet high in fiber and omega-3 fats and low in red meat, sugar, and processed carbs is good for both the gut and the brain. Many good bacteria need certain types of fiber to survive. Onions, garlic, chicory root, bananas, and even cocoa contain the fiber that feeds these helpful microorganisms. Probiotic supplements can also help achieve optimal gut and nervous system health.
4. Your Spinal Cord is Flimsier Than You Thought
The spinal cord runs through the vertebrae. It carries information from your brain to your limbs and organs. You may know that when a person receives a serious injury to their spinal cord, it can paralyze parts of their body. Many don’t know that the spinal cord and the nerves that branch off it are prone to smaller injuries as well.
The spinal cord connects to the brain at the brain stem, located at the base of your skull. Loss of the normal cervical spine (neck) curve caused by bad posture or whiplash injuries can stretch your brain stem by causing the spinal cord to pull on it. Instability of the cervical spine can also impair blood flow to the brain stem. This can cause vision problems, trouble with balance, and involuntary muscle spasms, among other symptoms.
Even less severe strains that affect the spinal curves or position of the vertebrae can harm nervous system function. Subluxations (misalignments) of the vertebrae happen due to normal wear and tear and more frequently with bad posture or trauma. These can impair nerves and cause issues with coordination, increased anxiety, tiredness, digestive problems, and pain.
Seeing your chiropractor regularly is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your neurological health. Your chiropractor can fix subluxations and help you improve posture, and prevent injuries.
Care for Neurological Wellness in Kentucky
At All Star Chiropractic, we use various adjustment techniques to help our patients experience less pain and function at their best. Schedule a consultation today to find out how we can help you in your wellness journey.