Parasympathetic nervous system. What is it and why is it so critical to your well-being?
Coming right up.
Stress has always been a factor for many people and no more so that in 2020, but in this article, I wanted to focus on the parasympathetic aspect and explain why that is so critical and how many things it influences in the body.
The parasympathetic nervous system is a part of the autonomic nervous system – the automatic nervous system that does all the stuff that you don’t have to think about. The part of your brain that balances and manages and brings everything back to homeostasis.
What organs do the Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system effect?
As you can see from the chart below, both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems affect major organ functions.
What is the difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems?
So, the thing to understand about the parasympathetic is that its opposing branch is called the sympathetic (or fight/flight) and that’s the part that typically takes precedent because whenever we have an emergency that has to be dealt with first.
So the parasympathetic is sort of the one that is allowed to do its thing when there is no imminent danger or when there is no perceived danger. These are like two parts, two halves on a seesaw. So whenever one goes up, the other one goes down. It’s like you’re driving a car and you can’t speed up and slow down at the same time.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic oppose each other and the sympathetic always comes first.
So now we’re going to talk about all the functions maintained by the parasympathetic that are only allowed to come through and only allowed to sort of do their thing after we settle down a little bit.
So the parasympathetic is also known as “feed/breed” or “rest/digest”. So it slows things down. It sends the blood, it reallocates the blood, away from muscles and to your vital organs so you can perform internal functions.
It slows down the heart. It slows down the breathing. It relaxes muscles and it produces vasodilation. It normally results in cold hands and feet, we have talked a lot about this, but the thing to understand is that if you can create vasodilation and warm your hands and feet, then you’re activating your parasympathetic that is handling all of this that we’re going to talk about.
So these are not isolated things. They all work together. When you increase one, you increase all of this. So it can have extremely profound far-reaching influences and benefits on your health.
The first thing that we want to talk about is digestion. All of these functions – digestion, immune system, anabolism and reproduction – are 100% controlled by the parasympathetic.
The sympathetic has no influence over these, except that it can shut off the parasympathetic. So in order for these to be driven forward, we have to have parasympathetic activation.
So digestion – the first part is to produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach and that’s to break down the food, to break down the proteins. We need to also have enzymes, both in the stomach and in the mouth and in the small intestine – because they further break down the food. If we don’t break down the food, we can’t absorb and utilize it.
Peristalsis is the movement of the gut. Your intestines are kind of squeezing. There’s muscular activity to squeeze the food so it moves forward through the gut. That’s called peristalsis.
And absorption also doesn’t happen by itself. It’s an active process. It uses energy. It has to first break the things down and then it has to use energy and just the right combination of things to pull it through that intestinal membrane so that we can use it.
Immune function is controlled by the parasympathetic and this would be primarily your cell mediated part of the immune system. That’s your white blood cells, the things that fight off infections; that combat toxins and foreign invaders in your body.
Anabolism is the process of building things up. Catabolism is breaking down. Anabolism is building up… and your body tries to do this all the time. So growth and repair and healing, the replacement of tissue, the regeneration and growth of tissue and any form of healing is a form of anabolism and can only work through the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
And then of course, reproduction. Fertility. Libido. Erectile function. All of those things that are necessary for humans to reproduce are completely controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system.
Also, any form of lubrication or secretion, whether its vaginal or in the stomach or tear ducts; any form of secretion is also a parasympathetic.
So if this doesn’t work, when these don’t work or don’t work well enough, now we have things like heartburn, indigestion, constipation, malabsorption, malnutrition. Even if we eat reasonably well and even if we eat the right things, if we can’t break it down properly we may not utilize more than 50% of the critical nutrients in there.
One especially is B12, that if we don’t have enough hydrochloric acid and just the right environment, then we may not absorb very much of that at all. The same thing with calcium and Vitamin D and so forth.
Immune function, of course. Colds and flus and infections. When do people get colds and flus? They get them when they’re stressed. They get them when their bodies are stressed by sugar. So we have talked about this in previous videos; that the cold and flu season coincides with the sugar and stress holiday season. Every year. That’s not a coincidence.
Students get their colds and flu around finals because they’re stressed. They eat more sugar. They don’t sleep enough. They are mentally agitated and tense.
So the parasympathetic nervous system drives the immune system. When we’re stressed, we shut off that function.
The anabolism – growth and repair. So now we could have wasting, we could have atrophy and just slow healing in general because we don’t have enough of the parasympathetic function.
Reproduction, sterility, lack of sex drive, erectile dysfunction – all of these things go together and that’s what we have to understand; that if you improve one of these by learning how to slow down, by doing breathing exercises, relaxation exercises… Then you don’t just do it to effect one symptom. You effect the entire system.
The entire system is affected because they run on the same fuel. They run on the same stimulation.
So, I hope that was helpful and that you understand a little bit more about how far-reaching the parasympathetic nervous system is and that it’s the stress that shuts down that parasympathetic function.
So if you can improve it just a little bit, you can improve all kinds of different things. For some people, like when they have cold hands and feet, they might try to do some relaxation exercises and they do it for a week and nothing happens.
But if something has been there for a long, long time you might have to be patient and do it for three months, six months, nine months – before you can really start shifting the dominance and the habits in the body and in the nervous system.
Please share this with people because these are things that you can help effect. Most people take antacids and Tum’s and proton-inhibitors and they take cold and flu medication.
They take drugs, over the counter drugs, to treat the symptoms when there is a simple solution. You just need to understand these principles and be patient and work with them.
How can I calm my nervous system naturally?
There are many techniques that a person can use to bio hack their parasympathetic nervous system, causing a relaxation response in their body to speed up healing and recovery, For example:
- Spend time in nature or doing a favourite hobby.
- Play with animals or children
- Practice meditation
- Get a massage
- Try progressive relaxation
- Deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm
- Try intermittent Pneumatic compression which encompasses aspects of the previous 5 mention techniques.
In summary, build techniques into your lifestyle that stimulate you Rest and digest (Parasympathetic) system, Afterall, you have worked hard on your training to stimulate change, now maximise your recovery to lock in the gains. Choose a routine and tools that are cost effective, convenient and repeatable.
Be sure and check out our website for the rental options (available in Singapore and NZ) to see how Recovery Systems can help you recover and lock in the gains faster.