The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of two parts, the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PSNS). The ANS of the body basically controls the functioning of glands and organs within the body and it does this continuously and unconsciously. In this article we will discuss the parasympathetic branch and its roles and functions.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) takes care of “rest, digest and repair” activities, such as salivation, tears, sexual arousal, urination, digestion and defecation. These activities are complementary to those of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which activates processes associated with the “fight or flight” response. The PSNS originates from the central nervous system and exits from the upper spinal cord (medulla) as cranial nerves (oculomotor, facial, glossopharyngeal and vagus) at the level of C1 and from lower spinal nerves in the sacrum at S2-4. The first three cranial nerves mentioned control functioning associated with the face, eyes and glands but the vagus nerve (cranial nerve 10) is unique. The vagus nerve travels into the thorax and abdomen connecting to the heart, lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys, gallbladder and gastrointestinal tract. Many researchers theorize that the benefits of upper cervical chiropractic (adjustments to misalignments of C1 and C2) are because of the anatomical relationship between C1 and the vagus nerve.
Both the SNS and PSNS are essential to homeostasis (cellular balance) and proper functioning of the body. It is common for people to have imbalances in their autonomic functioning. For instance, living a busy life with a hectic schedule can lead to burn out from a chronically activated SNS. This can result in adrenal fatigue, lowered immunity and chronic disease. Similarly, the PSNS can become dominant from a lack of activity and stimulation and this can lead to lowered mood, weight gain and chronic disease as well. However, for many people living in Canada with busy lives the SNS becomes overly active, leading to an imbalance. An elevation in PSNS activity is desirable on a daily basis for activities such as digestion, regeneration, sleep and more.
There are ways to stimulate PSNS with lifestyle changes and also with chiropractic care. Chiropractic adjustments of misaligned spinal segments have been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system by helping to down-regulate the SNS and promote PNS activity. Taking time to unwind, laughter, meditation and staying away from adrenal stimulants such as caffeine are other effective ways to elevate PSNS activity and lessen the impact of the SNS.
A chiropractor will conduct a thorough examination and history to determine if there is an imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. An imbalance such as this could be contributing to many health problems and can be restored to balance with chiropractic adjustments and other lifestyle changes. This balancing of the autonomic nervous systems and moving towards a state of homeostasis is why many people report greater feelings of wellbeing and less need for medication and surgeries when under chiropractic care.
If you have any questions about this article or chiropractic care, you can call us any time at 250-592-5553.
The autonomic nervous (ANS) system of the body controls the functioning of glands, organs, heart rate, respiration, urination, sexual arousal, blood pressure, digestion and more. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These autonomic systems, as the name implies, work continuously and automatically and in this blog I will give a general overview of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) while next week I will discuss the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS originates from the spinal cord and exits the spine from T1 (the first thoracic vertebra at the base of the neck) all the way down to L2 or L3 (the second or third lumbar vertebra located in the lower back). The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulates the “fight or flight” response, controlling activities such as pupil dilation, increasing heart rate, sweating, blood pressure and blood lipids such as cholesterol. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) on the other hand activates processes associated with “rest and recovery”, such as salivation, tears, sexual arousal, urination, digestion and defecation.
Having a certain level of sympathetic tone within the body is appropriate and healthy. For instance, when running away from danger or needing to urgently move your body the sympathetic nervous system acts like nitro for a car giving you increased strength, speed and heightened awareness for short periods. Having an elevated sympathetic tone would also be appropriate when needing to get up in the morning, or before giving an important presentation or athletic contest except maybe not as robustly as when running for your life! However, having an elevated sympathetic response for longer periods of time can be devastating to health and has been associated with virtually all chronic diseases. For instance, when the SNS is more active it down-regulates PNS activities such as immune function, healing and digestion.
This is where chiropractic care can be helpful. Chiropractic adjustments of misaligned spinal segments have been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system by helping down-regulate the SNS and promoting PNS activity. This allows the body to take the proverbial foot off the accelerator and apply the brakes bringing the body back into balance or homeostasis. This autonomic balancing restores the body’s innate ability to heal and digest and as a bonus increases immune functioning while also lowering pain sensitivity.
A chiropractor will conduct a thorough examination and history to determine if there is an imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. An imbalance such as this could be contributing to many health problems and may be restored to balance with chiropractic adjustments and other lifestyle changes. This balancing of the autonomic nervous systems and moving towards a state of homeostasis is why many people report greater feelings of wellbeing and less need for medication and surgeries when under chiropractic care.
Next week I will discuss the other half of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic system. If you have any questions about this article or chiropractic care, you can call us any time at 250-592-5553.
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