Dysautonomia – when the autonomic nervous system gets out of balance

In this article I would like to introduce for you the concept of dysautonomia (also called vegetative dystonia). It is important to understand this concept or spectrum of symptoms because it combines a variety of symptoms and physical problems that have been treated by the medical system as completely unrelated. This new way of looking at things can open up new, overarching solutions.

The autonomic (vegetative) nervous system

our nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (CNS, brain, spinal cord) and the unprotected peripheral nervous system. Both are in turn subdivided into the somatic and the autonomic (vegetative) nervous systems. While the somatic nervous system allows us to perceive our environment and interact with it consciously through our sensory organs and muscle movements, the autonomic nervous system independently controls our automatic and subconscious processes, such as digestion and heartbeat.

The autonomic (vegetative) nervous system is divided into two nerve cords: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Both innervate each organ (there is a nerve connection to each organ) so that it can be influenced toward either rest and recovery mode or fight, freeze, and flight mode in a single instant via neurotransmitters and hormones. Thus, our heart rate can accelerate rapidly when we are frightened (or in ancient times we were chased by a saber-toothed tiger) or calm down during a breathing exercise, pleasant massage or in the arms of a loved one. The sympathetic nervous system is the gas pedal, while the parasympathetic nervous system is the brake.

Dysautonomia - when the autonomic nervous system gets out of balance

Our body is designed so that all systems work in perfect harmony to maintain the balance, the healthy center. During the day we should be in a state of alert, focused but calm readiness, i.e. in the perfect balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, able to react optimally to acute situations in the short term thanks to the sympathetic nervous system, but also able to react during our breaks (z.B. During meals) to descend into the parasympathetic nervous system, with the deepest relaxation during night sleep. This is the basis for all biological systems. If something gets out of balance, problems arise and the system fails.

dysautonomia

a dysautonomia (=autonomic dysfunction) is an umbrella term for a series of diseases and syndromes in which there are disturbances in the autonomic (vegetative) nervous system. In general, we can say that there is a shift in favor of the stress axis, the sympathetic nervous system.

rarely these are genetic hereditary diseases, like familial dysautonomia. In most cases, a secondary condition is present, which is metabolic, caused by inflammatory or autoimmunological processes, which in turn are caused by various types of stress, such as toxins, head or spinal cord injuries, alcoholism, physical or psychological trauma, infections, medication, lack of sleep and exercise, inadequate diet..

It is really important, stress understanding and being understood as more than just pressure at work and something that only goes on in our head.

When speaking of dysautonomia, it can be a structural disorder with cellular damage (to the nerves of the autonomic nervous system), or a functional disorder, in the sense of an imbalance or dysregulation, without detectable structural damage. This is why it is generally called neuropathy, a disease of the nerves.

diseases and symptoms

Diseases typically associated with dysautonomia: ehlers-danlos syndrome, POTS, parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc

Basically, all chronic health problems can be related to dysautonomia. Symptoms of a dysautonomia can be (I myself fall totally into the spectrum and have marked my personal problem areas in bold):

allergic and autoimmune diseases, obesity, raynaud’s syndrome, fatigue, exhaustion, seemingly causeless pains, exaggerated tension and muscle stiffness, adrenal insufficiency, cardiovascular problems, dizziness, drowsiness, tachycardia, fainting spells, hypotension, high pulse, problems with breathing like shortness of breath, bladder problems (irritable bladder, not being able to urinate but feeling like you have to constantly…), any digestive problems (nausea, heartburn, insufficient gastric acid, constipation, poor absorption of nutrients, diarrhea, candida, SIBO; food intolerances manifest…), heavy sweating or no sweating at all, heat and cold intolerance, difficulty regulating body temperature, cold hands and feet, multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), alteration of sensory perception such as sense of smell, sense of sight or sense of hearing (exaggerated perception or z.B. episodes of visual disturbances, tinnitus), sleep disorders, blood sugar regulation disorders, skin manifestations and diseases (neurodermatitis, acne, psoriasis, rosacea…), headaches, mental and cognitive problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, concentration problems, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, aggression, alzheimer’s disease, tendency to addictions, sexual disorders, hyperacidity, general weakness or feeling of illness, susceptibility to infections. ..

Do not many of these symptoms seem familiar to you from the side of the histamine intolerance and mast cell activity disorder (MCAS)? In my opinion MCAS overlaps strongly with the field of dysautonomia, respectively. The two disease spectra can be mutually dependent, respectively. Are part of the same spectrum.

Read here how chronic inflammation and mast cells are involved in neurological and cognitive disorders.

It is a spectrum

As with all chronic diseases, we are dealing with a spectrum here. Usually the symptoms start insidiously and sporadically, often after a long or intense period of stress or a stroke of fate, are somewhat unpleasant, but not yet anything that can lead to a medical diagnosis. Untargeted treatment attempts with medications and diets and untreated life stressors then lead to a gradual aggravation that can seriously affect the quality of life of the affected person.

patients affected by dysautonomia symptoms are usually very sensitive to stimuli and stressors, including z.B. Caffeine, alcohol, temperature fluctuations, dehydration, certain medications, positive and negative excitement… what can trigger symptoms?. Here again we find an overlap with MCAS, which is logical because mast cells activated by stress hormones and neurpeptides secreted from nerve endings.

The problems can affect any organ system because each organ is innervated by the autonomic nervous system, as you can see in the diagram.

Dysautonomia - when the autonomic nervous system gets out of balance

The individual organs and systems gradually become overloaded, symptoms occur, although from the blood values and other examinations (e.g.B. colonoscopy) everything is in order. glands start to become exhausted or suppressed (like the thyroid, the pancreas, the adrenal cortex), immune cells are suppressed or overactivated, our hormones get mixed up, detoxification and tissue regeneration as such hardly take place, as this can only happen in the parasympathetic nervous system, we suffer from constant muscle tension (tonus), our sleep suffers noticeably, or we think we sleep well, but no longer get into deep sleep, with all the negative consequences for the body. We feel out of balance and become more susceptible to bad habits, driving our health further into a downward spiral.

nature has designed us to be in a balanced state most of the time, and the stress response only kicks in when we are acutely confronted with an extraordinary situation. Nowadays, due to our lifestyle, it is unfortunately often the other way round. There is a dominance of the sympathetic nervous system, our vegetative midline is raised, the stressful becomes the new normal state, which is unfortunately also perceived as such by those affected, which is why most do not even realize what their body is going through day after day. Unpleasant symptoms now manifest themselves insidiously. Digestion suffers, the intestine can no longer regulate itself and gets out of balance and food intolerances arise. Often this process happens over months and years, but sometimes it happens quite suddenly, depending on whether it was too much of a stressor over too long a period of time without enough regulatory breaks, or too much or too hard in one fell swoop. In which organ systems the diseases then manifest themselves depends on the type of stress and the individual weak points.

If secondary symptoms have manifested first (e.g.B. skin diseases), these alone cause permanent stress in the body (just like the condition of being labeled as chronically ill) a vicious circle from which it is difficult to break out of. The body and nervous system are now reacting to their own bodily responses, which can become firmly inscribed in the nervous system as epigenetic changes.

Once this is understood, it no longer makes sense to work on the symptoms alone (z.B. The problems are only downstream of the actual source of the dysregulation. Of course, the physical complaints must be treated and the symptoms must be contained, on the one hand to improve the patient’s quality of life, but above all because otherwise the body reacts over and over again as in a chain reaction to the symptoms themselves (in addition to still existing external stressors). Activated mast cells trigger z.B. inflammatory messenger substances, which in turn attract and activate other leukocytes, etc. This vicious circle must be interrupted on the physical as well as on the mental level.

The neurobiological level

Let us come to the actual source, the "mind. mind ("psyche") and body are usually separated, which makes no sense from a biological point of view, because the brain is also part of the body and therefore it is a biological problem, a misregulation. In the end, all chronic diseases have both psychosomatic and somatopsychic aspects. I find the following very fitting concept of donald M. Epstein of the "body mind" (bodymind).

What happens in the brain?

The brain areas we need to look at are the limbic system and the brainstem (collectively known as the archicortex or archecortex). The limbic system is located in an evolutionarily older part of our brain, our "mammalian brain," which is common to all mammals. Sensory stimuli are processed here. We receive information about our environment through hearing, smelling, seeing, tasting and feeling. Simple sensations like pleasure, enjoyment and fear are generated by our sensory perception. In other words, what we experience causes us to be relaxed or stressed. It is easy to understand that the brain increases the perception of certain sensory stimuli when it feels threatened in order to better detect dangers and protect the body from them, which explains these typical increased sensitivities such as exaggerated sense of smell or hearing or sensitivity to light when dysautonomia is present. There is a stronger blood supply to the corresponding brain areas, which results in a stronger supply of nutrients and growth factors and thus an increased formation of synaptic connections.

Important parts of the limbic system:

Amygdala (almond nucleus): involved in the analysis and emotional evaluation of danger and fear conditioning, but also in positive arousal. It decides and interprets how we experience the world. it links events to emotions and stores them (conditioning). This involves gross generalization and reacting only through the subconscious, z.B. Can a food be associated with a difficult phase of life?. The body and the immune system react via the nervous system without being aware of the trigger and without the food itself being the original problem. The amygdala sends commands to the hypothalamus. The amygdala is significantly enlarged in autistic people.1)

HypothalamusThe hypothalamus is the most important control center of the autonomic nervous system, responsible for maintaining homeostasis (the healthy balance: blood pressure, temperature, hormones, circadian rhythm, hunger sensation, libido, osmolarity (via excretion via kidney and bladder)… rich in mast cells. It is clear that something is already mixed up here with a dysautonomia. The hypothalamus activates the adrenal glands via the pituitary gland, which in turn activate the sympathetic nervous system through the release of stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline).

Basal ganglia: in introversion, overcautiousness and anxiety disorders you will find them acutely overactivated. sufferers then lack any spontaneity and tend to be overwhelmed by a situation and feel at the mercy and frozen or actually physically frozen, often accompanied by a susceptibility to diarrhea. In underactivated state, tendency to extroverted, stimulating, impulsive, addictive behavior, tics. Responsible for motivation, willpower, consolidation of habits, interface between feelings and movement (some of my clients and myself showed z.T. In severe intolerance reactions short term symptoms of parkinson; acute stress and pressure can trigger tourette-like seizures). dopamine is the most important neurotransmitter here.

Other brain areas involved (simplified):

In general, the brain stem (reptilian brain, evolutionary oldest part of our brain) controls the most basic bodily reactions such as breathing, blood pressure and reflexes.

Locus caeruleus: sitting in the brain stem (common to all lower vertebrates). Increase in general brain reactivity due to release of noradrenalin. norepinephrine leads to anxiety, panic, sleep disturbances, and an inability to relax (and I suspect also that mushy, like poisoned feeling after a stressful episode), and takes days and well-functioning methylation to be cleared. The L.C. Activates the amygdala and makes it more sensitive. important to understand: a generally sensitized brain that scouts more for hazards is more prone to learn new hazards, often in a completely inappropriate and exaggerated way (which then leads to the phenomenon of people going into life-threatening anaphylactic shock because of an odor u.a.).

Thalamusthe thalamus is also called the gateway to consciousness because it processes sensory stimuli primitively before they are sent to the amygdala. is strongly filtered and even amplified, depending on what it acutely considers essential for the organism to survive. the setting of the thalamus therefore already decides how we perceive the world.

A run up stress system furthermore provides for the increased consumption of others neurotransmitter such as dopamine (motivation), GABA (serenity), endorphins (pain inhibition) glycine (muscle relaxation, inhibitory) and serotonin (being happy) as well as nutrients and minerals. Histamine is released in greater amounts, which further spurs the sympathetic nervous system. Cortisol, which keeps many systems in balance even under stress (immune cells, digestion, blood sugar…), can at some point no longer be provided sufficiently when the adrenal glands are burned out. To prevent this, the body sacrifices other important steroid hormones (vitamin D, sexual hormones, thyroid hormones…) as long as possible in order to make cortisol available (this is why I continue to take cholesterol-lowering drugs)!!). attention, sugar, coffee, drugs and stimulant adaptogens, but also benzodiazepines and ssris are no substitute for self-care, rest and sleep, because they also only draw on our energy, hormone and neurotransmitter reserves and deplete them even more! We need to learn again as a society to operate within our God-given energy balances.

Our prefrontal cortex is suppressed, the "supervisor" of our highly developed brain, responsible for logical and creative thinking, filtering out disturbing/irrelevant stimuli, problem solving, long-term planning, reasonable decisions, flexibility in thinking, calmness, short-term memory (the development of dementia is usually accompanied by anxiety/depression)! distraction used to be a daily occurrence for me and is for many of my clients), generally for all high cognitive processes that make up our humanity.

You can see how small but chronic problems can grow into a domino effect as all body systems influence each other. For this reason, it is generally not possible to speak of THE trigger that only needs to be found and eliminated, it is rather the sum of many things plus secondary conditioning that has inscribed itself in the body system that needs to be addressed.

A new approach to chronic health conditions

This completely new way of looking at these "diseases" sees them not so much set in stone, but rather as a spectrum of functional dysregulations that can be targeted for optimization at any time, which is a very encouraging message. If it could drift in one direction, it can drift again in the other direction.

Again, I can share all the information I have published on this blog and my free E-book recommend lifestyle optimizations described above to protect the body from unnecessary strain and stressors, or. Dealing with them in the right way, and helping the nervous system to better regulate itself and settle into a healthy center (even if it’s not so easy to teach a good, hard-working German citizen how to take care of himself). For myself it was also unfortunately the most impressive to experience in my own body how the body completely goes on strike, where I never want to return). Equally effective are targeted measures for stimulation of the vagus nerve and reconditioning the limbic system (what i u.A. In my coachings specifically tailored to people with MCAS, allergies, autoimmune diseases and food intolerances), because only HOW our nervous system reacts to stressors reacting and interpreting already makes a big difference.

In my coaching for this reason, i take a very holistic approach, as i was taught at the institute for the psychology of eating, because in america, mind-body medicine is already being used with great success. Of course, this approach requires openness and patience, and the last thing I do is make promises of quick fixes. whoever wants this should resort to cortisone, cromoglicin, replacement hormones, ssris and nsars (i don’t condemn anyone who can’t do without, was the case with myself for decades, they just must not remain the only solution). What I work on in my work with clients who are open to new approaches are simple, effective, self-empowering and sustainable strategies that get to the root of your problems as far upstream as possible.

If you rev up the engine of your car for too long, you will burn up the engine.

Dr. Charles Gant

I see the body as a biofeedback system for our consciousness.

  1. MW. Mosconi, H. Cody-hazlett, MD poe, G. Gerig, R. Gimpel-smith, J. Piven: longitudinal study of amygdala volume and joint attention in 2- to 4-year-old children with autism. Arch gen psychiatry. 2009;66(5):509-516 PMID 19414710

What are the triggers of your dysautonomous problems and how can they be reversed?? You can find out more in my clear video course!

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