By Dr. Michael Roth
In my last post we discussed the Sympathetic Nervous System, and the way it affects the body. This time, we are going to explore the other part of our nervous system, the Parasympathetic, and discuss the interaction between the two.
Your body is more than blood and bones and muscle. It is an elegant system that also includes glands and organs and is designed to work with perfect circulation, perfect assimilation and perfect elimination. Yet, I see patients daily for whom this “perfection” is only a pipe-dream. Sometimes, the culprit that is responsible for a body that is not functioning properly is the nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system works to nourish, heal and regenerate the body. It is anabolic, which means it is concerned with rebuilding the body. Its nerves stimulate digestion, and the immune and eliminative organs. These organs include the liver, pancreas, stomach and intestines. The parasympathetic nervous system, when activated by rest, relaxation and happy thoughts, is essential for balanced living and for all healing.
The sympathetic nervous system activates the glands and organs that defend the body against attack. It is called the fight-or-flight system. Its nerves direct more blood to the muscles and the brain.
The heart rate and blood pressure increase, while it decreases the blood flow to the digestive and eliminative organs. It also activates the thyroid and adrenal glands to provide extra energy for fighting or running away. Nervousness, stress or feelings of panic are what one feels when in a sympathetic state of readiness. The sympathetic system is catabolic, which means it tears down the body. Energy is used to prepare for defense, rather than for nourishment or for elimination of wastes.
The feeling often associated with the parasympathetic state can be one of lethargy or fatigue, as one is so relaxed. This is not unhealthy. Rather, it indicates a state of repair and rebuilding in progress.
Symptoms of parasympathetic nervous system dominance often include feeling depressed and cynical. An individual may be paralyzed by their fear or anger about their situation. There may be a decrease in clarity of thought as a part of a numbing process to avoid pain and overwhelming emotions.
When a patient arrives at my office in parasympathetic dominance, I often see a person who tends to be more fatigued and prone to depression and whose adrenal and thyroid glands tend to be underactive. They may experience multiple allergies. Other symptoms include weight gain, dizziness and light headedness, low blood pressure and diarrhea.
Many of my patients have already gone from doctor to doctor looking for a cure before they come to my office. In my many years as a holistic chiropractor, I have studied and practiced effective procedures and techniques, along with nutritional supplements, that balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
When the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are working as they should, the tendency is to rest often and easily. The parasympathetic system reduces the activity of the brain, the muscles, and the adrenal and thyroid glands. When no situation is pressing, the balanced person can comfortably choose to rest and can sleep deeply. In this restorative sleep, the parasympathetic system renews and heals any damage to the body caused by an over-active sympathetic nervous system. Balance between the two systems is a key step toward greater health and wellness!