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Are You Sympathetic Dominant? What It Is and How to Deal with It

Have you heard about sympathetic dominance?

Sympathetic dominance is basically being in constant “fight or flight” mode–and feeling unable to switch this off!  Work, family, kids, social demands, unhealthy relationships…food choice, lack of sleep, too much caffeine, not enough down time–all contribute to becoming a sympathetic dominant. Let’s talk more about this dominance and how it effects your health.

Understanding How the Nervous System Works

Your nervous system has two major parts: the central nervous system, which basically is the brain and spinal cord; and the peripheral nervous system, which refers to the nerves outside the central nervous system.

The Peripheral Nervous System

The Peripheral Nervous System has 2 parts:

  • Somatic Nervous System
  • Autonomic Nervous System

The somatic nervous system is commonly known as voluntary nervous system. This consists of peripheral nerve fibers that carry sensory information from the distal parts of the body going to the central nervous system to be interpreted. In addition, the somatic nervous system also contains nerve fibers that enable movement of the skeletal muscles. For example, when you touch a hot object, the sensation is transferred by the sensory nerves to the brain, and as a response, the brain will cause the skeletal muscles of the hand to withdraw immediately, through the peripheral motor nerves. Of course, this happens in less than a second.

As the name implies, we have full control of this branch of the nervous system. Skeletal muscles move and rest when we want them to.

This is not so with the autonomic (involuntary nervous system). We don’t have conscious control over it, meaning it operates automatically–on its own.

The autonomic nervous system makes body functions such as heartbeat, digestion, and breathing possible. This nervous system provides innervation (supply of nerves) to the smooth muscles of the internal organs and glands so that they can carry on their function accordingly and secrete hormones as needed.

This nervous system is further classified into two branches:

Sympathetic Nervous System (Arousing/Fight-or-Flight)

The sympathetic nervous system is activated when there is a trigger, such as a sense of threat or danger. When this happens your body moves on to the fight-or-flight mode. Your heartbeat races, you look pale and cold, your pupils dilate, you have a burst of energy, and so on. 

The fight-or-flight mode, also called acute stress response, is just basically a response to stress, whether it be mental or physical. This concept was first introduced by an American physiologist, Walter Cannon, in the 1920’s. Cannon observed that our body undergoes a series of rapid changes to face a threatening experience or an emergency.

Upon the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, our adrenal glands release adrenaline and noradrenaline. These two neurotransmitters cause bodily changes such as rapid heart beat, increased breathing, and shunting of blood from the skin to the muscles, and giving you more energy to be ready to take action.

Once the threat is gone, it takes about 20-60 seconds until the body returns to its relaxed state. However, as I said earlier, our 21st-century lifestyle brings us chronic stress which keeps us in constant fight-or-flight mode!

Parasympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic nervous system operates is your “rest and digest” branch. Its purpose is to conserve and store energy, regulate body functions such as digestion and urination, and promote healing and repair all over your body.

Are You Sympathetic Dominant?

Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are necessary for maintaining your body’s stable or balanced condition called homeostasis. However, given the number of stressors we face each day, we can easily become sympathetic dominant.
 
Check out these common symptoms of sympathetic dominance:

  • Shoulder and neck tightness
  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Gut problems such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Light sleep and vivid dreams
  • Hair loss
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sugar or salt cravings
  • Feeling cold
  • Irritability
  • Water retention
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Reduced appetite

If you don’t have these symptoms, good for you! If you have, there’s still good news for you. We can help your autonomic nervous system work in balance. Because our problem here is the dominance of the fight-or-flight reaction, which leads to becoming anxious and unable to relax, the following methods are effective for stimulating the “rest and digest” mode:

Avoid Multitasking

I know it’s tempting to do as many tasks at once as possible, BUT multitasking results in a loss of focus and more errors. Also, having to deal with lots of things that demand your attention simultaneously increases your stress level…which becomes a trigger to the fight-or-flight mode.

Do Relaxation Techniques

Simply put: We are going to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system so that it will take over and allow your body to rest and heal. Getting a massage and attending a yoga class can help, but there are also relaxation techniques that you can do right away.

  • Imagery – Imagining you are in a peaceful, calming place while you engage all your senses.
  • Abdominal breathing – Put your hand on your stomach; if it slightly rises up and down when you breathe, you are doing the right thing.
  • Mindfulness – According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with intention.
  • Stimulate your lips – The lips are full of parasympathetic fibers, and stimulating the lips mean activating the rest and digest mode.
  • Acupuncture, Chiropractic, and Bodywork.

Additionally, here are 4 more great ways to get out off the fight-flight hamster wheel:

Reduce Caffeine Intake

There are over 20 harmful effects of caffeine. Specifically, when you rely on coffee first thing in the morning, caffeine forces your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol (stress hormone). If you are struggling with sleep, anxiety, or digestive problems, reducing caffeine is really important. You can also try drinking water when you first wake up and wait until 10 am before having caffeine. Having caffeine with your first meal (with some fat and protein) is also helpful.

Get the Sleep You Need

An average American only sleeps 4-6 hours a night while an average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Not having enough sleep weakens your immune system, decreases your cognitive function, leads to weight imbalance, blood sugar imbalance, and eventually lowers your quality of life.

Reset your circadian rhythm by having a set time to sleep and wake up. If you’ve been battling with insomnia, you can try diffusing lavender essential oil in your room, dimming the light, taking a warm bath, and turning off screens an hour before bedtime.

Exercise Smart

To activate your parasympathetic nervous system, choose grounding exercises over stimulating and high-movement exercises. Yoga, pilates, and simply walking are nourishing to the nervous system in chronic stress in a flight or fight mode.

Modify Your Diet

What you eat affects how you feel. While no two people are exactly alike in their optimal diet, it’s ideal to choose a wide variety of fresh organic foods whenever possible to fuel your body.

Bananas, broccoli sprouts, bison, bone broth, celery, Celtic sea salt, camu camu, cauliflower, cottage cheese, kiwi, liver, orange juice, and papaya are some of the foods that support the adrenals.

Most of the foods mentioned above also support the nervous system with the addition of avocados, carrots, organ meats, oysters, salmon, sunflower seeds, coconut water, cherries, leafy greens, walnuts, and collagen.

Also, did you know that certain foods like Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and chamomile can be helpful to manage stress and anxiety?

Start Taking Action

Try following two or more of these suggestions to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Track your progress with a journal –It makes it more intentional and shows how committed you are to making necessary lifestyle changes so that you can finally make yourself rest, digest, and heal.

It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully. 

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!

-Rebecca

How Healing Your Gut Can Help with Anxiety

Eating healthy food affects both your physical health and your mental health. 

In this week’s newsletter, I want to shed some further light on the connection between the gut and brain and how you can relieve your anxiety symptoms naturally.

In the US alone, 40 million adults age 18 and older are affected by anxiety. That is 18.1% of the population! While, genetics, personality, and life events are risk factors in developing anxiety, brain chemistry plays an important role. And what hugely influences your brain chemistry? You may have guessed it: your gut health! And since nowadays more people are eating processed and unhealthy foods, this be the reason why more people are prone to developing anxiety.

So now let’s focus on how the gut affects brain function and how to relieve anxiety symptoms.

The Brain-Gut Connection

There is a sort of communication between your brain and gut. We call this the brain-gut axis. This communication is facilitated by the nerves, neurons, hormones, and the gut’s microbiota (bacterial family).

The first proof of this connection was discovered by the Nobel Prize physiologist Ivan Pavlov. When you see, smell, or taste food, your stomach and pancreas are stimulated to release acid that helps in digestion. This happens because of the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve (nerve that emerges from the brain) that is responsible for the sensory and motor functions of the throat, abdomen and other nearby organs. Notably, the vagus nerve also sends information from the gut to the brain.

Additionally, studies have shown that people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s Disease have weak vagus nerve function, resulting in reduced gut function. In animal studies, stress stops the vagus nerve from sending information to the brain, and this results in various gut problems. However, a study involving mice shows that feeding them with probiotics resulted in reduced stress hormones in their blood. Interestingly (and sadly), this effect of probiotics had no effect when the vagus nerve was cut.

This proves that the connection between the brain and gut affects gastric function as well as brain function.

Now let’s move on to how the gut microbiota affect brain function and vice versa.

Over the previous 2 newsletters, we tackled GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is an example of a neurotransmitter. The brain has many neurotransmitters, and they are responsible for controlling your feelings and emotions. What’s interesting is that many of these neurotransmitters are produced by the cells and the trillions of bacteria in the gut. In fact, your gut microbiome (the diverse community of bacteria in the gut) is responsible for producing GABA.

Aside from producing neurotransmitters, your gut microbiome also produce chemicals that affect brain function and metabolize bile acids and amino acids that affect the brain. Yes, although bile acids are produced by the liver to digest and absorb fats, they also affect the brain.

You may also recall something called leaky gut. In leaky gut, the inflammatory toxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) made by some bacteria in your gut passes through to the bloodstream. This is associated with brain disorders such as depression, dementia, and schizophrenia.

Dysbiosis and Anxiety

When there is dysbiosis (an imbalance of microorganisms in the gut), different illnesses can occur, including ones that affect mental functioning, such as anxiety.

So going from here, we can conclude that keeping the gut bacteria healthy can improve brain health. In a study by Yang, et. al. that was published in the Journal of General Psychiatry, “more than half of the studies included showed it was positive to treat anxiety symptoms by regulation of the intestinal microbiota.”

Probiotic and Non-Probiotic Interventions

There are two ways to keep the gut microbiome healthy.

One is taking probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you because they keep your gut healthy.

Second, is non-probiotic intervention, which means making healthier choices with your diet. Start by ditching sodas, sweeteners, prepackaged and processed foods. Begin eating vegetables, clean sources of proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and eggs. Let’s look into a few dietary specifics that can help support a healthy microbiome.

Omega-3 fats
These are found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, and dietary supplements. Studies show that Omega 3s increase gut bacteria and also reduce the risk of brain disorders.

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods can alter brain activity. Examples are fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and cheese.

Fiber-Rich Foods
When we eat fiber, it remains unchanged until it reaches the colon. Your stomach doesn’t have the enzymes to digest fiber. It’s only in the colon that fiber is broken down by your bacteria that use fiber as their food supply. The byproduct of this breakdown of fats by the gut bacteria are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA’s are then used by your gut cells as fuel. When SCFA and other metabolites enter the blood, they also act as signals to the brain and regulate the immune system and inflammation.

Polyphenol-Rich Foods
Polyphenols are plant chemicals processed by gut bacteria. The metabolites act directly as neurotransmitters, making polyphenols improve cognitive function. Examples of polyphenol-rich foods are cocoa, green tea, olive oil, and coffee.

Tryptophan-Rich Foods
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that boosts serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is sometimes called the happy chemical because it is associated with happiness and a positive mood. Low serotonin has been linked to mood disorders and depression. Salmon, eggs, spinach, and seeds are rich in tryptophan.

The gut and brain affect each other through nerve connections and neurotransmitters, and the gut microbiota is essential in maintaining a healthy and functional brain-gut axis. So if you want to improve your brain function, particularly improving your anxiety symptoms, these are some tools you can use.

That’s all for today. Please be sure to discuss changes to your diet, medication, or supplement regimen with a trusted health professional to be sure it is safe and right for you.

It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully. 

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!

-Rebecca

Stress, anxiety, sleep and GABA

Are you having difficulty with sleep or battling with stress or anxiety?

GABA deficiency might be the culprit. 

GABA or Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain and functions as a neurotransmitter. Being one of the major neurotransmitters, it is involved in the communication among brain cells. And guess what? Your gut health and good gut bugs influence your GABA levels!
This is just another reason why I focus on building up gut health. So much of your wellbeing depends on how healthy your gut is.

So how does a GABA deficiency lead to difficulty with sleeping and increased levels of stress and anxiety?

GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter–meaning, it lowers the activity of the nerve cells in your brain and in your central nervous system. In short, it calms your mind and helps your body to relax. Having enough GABA in your brain helps you get your needed sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and create a calm mood. It also, ironically, helps with focus by suppressing things you’re not paying attention to so you don’t get overstimulated. Interesting!

Imagine GABA as your neurons’ brake. Once there is a trigger, neurons start firing electrical signals that serve as a form of communication to their neighboring cells. Glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter, is responsible for the neurons’ excitability (like putting your foot on the gas pedal). GABA serves as a brake to stop the neurons from firing after their job is done. Without GABA, the brain gets overstimulated.

Did you know that GABA is also known as “Nature’s Valium”?

The feeling of happiness and relaxation is attributed in having enough GABA in your brain. In fact, it is important that all the brain chemicals are in balanced levels in order for you to experience a balanced mood. If you notice that you don’t feel balanced, are easily triggered to feel anxious, having difficulty with sleep, finding it hard to focus and relax, or having mood swings, your gut and GABA levels may need supporting.

Are you experiencing the following symptoms?

  • You’re filled with dread and have a knot in your stomach for no obvious reason.
  • You’re frequently late because you’re too disorganized to make appointments on time.
  • You’re often doing many things at once, but, at the end of the day, have little to show for your efforts.
  • Even when things are going well, you find new things to worry about.
  • You can’t relax and racing thoughts keep you up at night.
  • Your heart pounds or beats erratically for no reason.
  • You rely on high carbohydrate foods, drugs, or alcohol to relax.

If you answered yes to several of these symptoms, you may be low in GABA and may wonder why.

There are several possibilities. There are inherited disorders of GABA metabolism. However, your lifestyle plays an important role in developing GABA deficiency. Stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and gluten intolerance are cited as causes of GABA deficiency according to the Harvard Medical School researcher Datis Kharrazian, discusses in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

The first step in repairing proper brain is to dial in the best diet for YOUR body (one size doesn’t fit all!) and create healthy lifestyle habits like rock solid stress management tools. This may also include some targeted gut healing. Please watch out for next week’s newsletter as I will discuss GABA supplements, the pros and cons, and what are other options to increase your GABA levels.

It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully. 

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!

-Rebecca

Stress, anxiety, sleep and GABA

Are you having difficulty with sleep or battling with stress or anxiety?

GABA deficiency might be the culprit. 

GABA or Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain and functions as a neurotransmitter. Being one of the major neurotransmitters, it is involved in the communication among brain cells. And guess what? Your gut health and good gut bugs influence your GABA levels!
This is just another reason why I focus on building up gut health. So much of your wellbeing depends on how healthy your gut is.

So how does a GABA deficiency lead to difficulty with sleeping and increased levels of stress and anxiety?

GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter–meaning, it lowers the activity of the nerve cells in your brain and in your central nervous system. In short, it calms your mind and helps your body to relax. Having enough GABA in your brain helps you get your needed sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and create a calm mood. It also, ironically, helps with focus by suppressing things you’re not paying attention to so you don’t get overstimulated. Interesting!

Imagine GABA as your neurons’ brake. Once there is a trigger, neurons start firing electrical signals that serve as a form of communication to their neighboring cells. Glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter, is responsible for the neurons’ excitability (like putting your foot on the gas pedal). GABA serves as a brake to stop the neurons from firing after their job is done. Without GABA, the brain gets overstimulated.

Did you know that GABA is also known as “Nature’s Valium”?

The feeling of happiness and relaxation is attributed in having enough GABA in your brain. In fact, it is important that all the brain chemicals are in balanced levels in order for you to experience a balanced mood. If you notice that you don’t feel balanced, are easily triggered to feel anxious, having difficulty with sleep, finding it hard to focus and relax, or having mood swings, your gut and GABA levels may need supporting.

Are you experiencing the following symptoms?

  • You’re filled with dread and have a knot in your stomach for no obvious reason.
  • You’re frequently late because you’re too disorganized to make appointments on time.
  • You’re often doing many things at once, but, at the end of the day, have little to show for your efforts.
  • Even when things are going well, you find new things to worry about.
  • You can’t relax and racing thoughts keep you up at night.
  • Your heart pounds or beats erratically for no reason.
  • You rely on high carbohydrate foods, drugs, or alcohol to relax.

If you answered yes to several of these symptoms, you may be low in GABA and may wonder why.

There are several possibilities. There are inherited disorders of GABA metabolism. However, your lifestyle plays an important role in developing GABA deficiency. Stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and gluten intolerance are cited as causes of GABA deficiency according to the Harvard Medical School researcher Datis Kharrazian, discusses in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

The first step in repairing proper brain is to dial in the best diet for YOUR body (one size doesn’t fit all!) and create healthy lifestyle habits like rock solid stress management tools. This may also include some targeted gut healing. Please watch out for next week’s newsletter as I will discuss GABA supplements, the pros and cons, and what are other options to increase your GABA levels.

It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully. 

If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).

Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!

-Rebecca