If you suffer from depression or chronic pain, I can guarantee your brain does not function optimally. If you have other chronic illness I can almost guarantee your brain does not function optimally. Modern science is in its infancy in finding out how your body communicates with itself. We’ve known about the immune system, endocrine system, neurological system, cardiovascular system, etc for decades in decent detail. The new advances in our knowledge are in how all these systems talk and communicate.
Today I’m going to go through powerful links to health problems in the brain. As I go through each example I am going to talk about how specific stimulation of the brain can make a world of difference. At the end, I’ll come back to the connections we are finding between all our systems, because it is vitally important for all our health. If we miss the connectivity, we miss EVERYTHING. Before I can get to that though, let’s hop into the power and importance of a healthy nervous system in specifics!
In our last post ( ”Healthy Nervous System = Healthy Body”) I described how a healthy nervous system needs these 3 things:
2. Healthy Blood Sugar/Energy
I’m going to talk specifically about the stimulation part of the equation here as I thoroughly covered oxygen and blood sugar in the last post. Stimulation is the part most people are extremely unfamiliar with, because most have very little specific knowledge about how their brain processes information. I cover some of the basics in my blog article entitled “Why you must have brain rehab to help your chronic illness.” Rather than talk in general, I am going to go through 2 examples.
I. Chronic Pain and Your Brain
Most patients experiencing chronic pain are a wits end when they come to my office. Constantly hurting puts most people on edge. The constant pain makes most other stimuli more acute. These people do not want to be socially active because handling noise and/or bright lights is hard on them. These people do not want to be physically active because it often hurts, and they often struggle with depression due to the pain (but more on that in the next section). What can we learn about a person’s brain who has chronic pain?
A study done in the journal Pain in 1995 showed increased activity in the right anterior cingulate cortex in patients experiencing chronic pain[i].
Another study done on patients with fibromyalgia found patients’ brains to show increased firing with less stimuli in the cerebellum, inferior parietal lobe, contralateral putamen, and superior temporal gyrus[ii]. We all can sense different inputs like hot, cold, sharp, dull, and the amount of pressure when touching something. At what point do these inputs become PAINFUL? This study found patients with chronic pain, experienced pain from sensory input before healthy people! This means the same amount of pressure elicits pain in one person and nothing in the next. That is a change in your neurology! That is a change in the way your nervous system interprets the world!
What is so interesting is we can test these parts of the brain with a neurological exam if you know what to look for. The superior temporal gyrus (STL) is our primary auditory center so how is your hearing? The STL also helps with auditory spatial perception. How well can you identify where a sound comes from? The STL also fuses form and motion. My best example of this is taken from a pheasant hunter. Pheasant hunters need to be able to ID a male from a female in flight so they know which one to shoot and which one not to shoot. Similarly our military often needs to be able to identify a civilian from a hostile in urban warfare. This identification and assessment takes place in the superior temporal lobe. How is yours functioning?
The inferior parietal lobe (IPL) is a large structure but some of its easily testable functions are the ability to identify objects by touch and the R side helps with solving spatial puzzles (how good are you at constructing things with your hands or interpreting maps?) and the L side helps with language (how good are you at rhymes, poems, or other manipulations of language such as boggle, scrabble, or wheel of fortune?).
The cerebellum is the area of your brain concerned with balance and is the most easily affected by alcohol so look at the sobriety tests. Can you put your hands out in front of you, close your eyes and touch your nose or do you miss the tip of your nose with either finger? Can you walk a straight line one foot in front of the other? Can you balance on two legs with your eyes closed? Can you balance on one leg with your eyes close? Do you have problems with motion sickness in cars, boats, airplanes, or amusement rides?
The anterior cingulate is highly connected to the emotional response connected to behavior. It is often overactive and this can create strong and often out of control behavior. When it is not balanced with other parts of the frontal lobe like the polar-orbital region (which is connected to actions and their consequences) people tend to be ruled by their emotions. Do you have difficulty with your emotions running away with you?
The Mesencephalon is the very top of the brain stem. This part of the brain receives both auditory and light stimuli. It is a primitive center of the brain with more subconscious and reflexive function. Often people with mesencephalon problems do not like bright lights or loud noises. They may not want to drive at night, or always need sunglasses, or be very uncomfortable around loud noises. This area of the brainstem contains the Edinger-Westphal Nucleus which helps constrict your pupils. I can often pick up on abnormalities here by watching how a patient’s pupils react to light, or many people are so dramatically imbalanced I can just look at the pupils and see that they are dilated or constricted all the time! People with mesencephalon problems often startle easily and can cry easily. This part of the brain is also responsible for triggering your physiological responses to pain. The whole, “pinch me” to wake you up if you are dreaming runs through this center. When this is overactive your body can be constantly over-reacting to stimuli as if they were painful! The over activity in this area is typically a result from low frontal lobe function which fails to inhibit this more primitive area.
A great video from Dateline ABC shows the founder of functional neurology running through 2 patients in Atlanta, GA. Please take 5 minutes and watch this clip.
Did you enjoy the video? Let me point out a few things. The boy (Will) has a huge problem in the mesencephalon which is why he wears the sunglasses all the time. Did you see his reaction when Dr. Carrick had a light in his eyes? This whole body reaction I only see in the worst cases, but how are you going to be on Dateline ABC unless you have a dramatic example J. The woman (Stacy) has huge problems in the cerebellum (the balance center in the brain). ABC chose patients with movement disorders because they are some of the most dramatic on film, but this same method works for patients with all kinds of problems (depression, pain, fatigue, inability to sleep, anxiety, etc). All we have to do is assess what part of your brain is not working well and stimulate it! I personally know at least 5 different doctors in that video and I can guarantee this is the case. Please don’t get hung up that this can’t help you if you don’t have a movement disorder like vertigo or are paralysis in a limb. The brain runs everything, and this type of brain stimulation can help so many chronically ill people.
Did you see some of the treatments for these patients? Stacy had 2 doctors moving her arm and leg on the right side (as seen in the video). They are stimulating the right cerebellum and that stimulation can bring her back to balance! Is that the cure for all balance problems? Should we just tell every person with a balance problem to move their right hand and leg and it will be fixed? NO!!!!!!! The therapies done for Stacy were specific to her. They were aimed at the specific parts of her brain that Dr. Carrick saw were failing on his examination. What about Will? Some therapies they used were mirrors to trick the brain and about the side of the body, spinning him around in the gyrostim, and having him stare at his thumbs while he shakes his head back and forth? Once again is this the cure for migraines and L hand paralysis? NO!!!! These exercises were given to try and stimulate the parts of the brain that Dr. Carrick felt needed stimulation after his examination of Will.
After seeing that video I often get questions about the gyrostim. Without getting too far down the rabbit trail, the gyrostim was developed based on years of research surrounding eye movements. You have an amazing set of reflexes that balance your eyes movements with your vestibular system. The vestibular system is used for balance and knowing your position in space as your move your head around. Have you ever watched a bad home video where the camera bobs all over the place? Do you realize your head does this all the time? You have reflexes in your brain surrounding eye movements that keep you balanced. For this reason I can get a ton of information about different parts of the brain by watching how eyes move in both smooth motion (pursuits) and quick, jumpy motions (saccades). While I do not have the $150,000 gyrostim at my office (want to buy one for me J?) most functional neurologists are doing eye exercises with their patients to help stimulate those same areas.
Here is a link to one of the teachers in the functional neurology program at the Carrick Institute. Showing a super simple exercise. Dr. Mike Powell http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=XIfIWk0VscY demonstrating smooth pursuit exercises.
Do you see how simple some of neurologically stimulating treatments are? The key is that these exercises stimulate the part of your brain that you need! Our neurological therapies are varied and include wearing sunglasses, blinking lights in 1 eye, moving arms and legs on 1 side of the body, balancing exercises, playing games like memory or scrabble, writing poems, building things with legos, recognizing patterns, eye movements, spins, Where’s Waldo books, Magic Eye books, breathing exercises, gargling and more. All these exercises target different parts of your brain and they can make a world of a difference in helping the weak parts of your brain function in a healthy way again.
Do you have a health problem? Have you considered your brain imbalance could be the missing piece in why you can’t get better? Have you ever had a functional neurological exam? If you haven’t, please consider coming into our office or seeing another functional neurology doctor who has studied at the Carrick Institute.
In my next post I’m planning on illustrating some neurological connections surrounding patients with depression. It will be similar to this article but we’ll look more specifically at some of the areas of the brain involved with depression rather than the links to abnormal pain perception. Have a great week.
[i] Hsieh J, Belfrage M, Stone-Elander S, Hansson P, Ingvar M. Central representation of chronic ongoing neuropathic pain studied by positron emission tomography. Pain November 1995; 63(2) 225-236.
[ii] Gracely R, Petzke F, Wolf J, Clauw D. Functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence of augmented pain processing in fibromyalgia. Arthritis & Rheumatism. May 2002; 46(5) 1333-1343.