Dr. M de Klerk
Your parasympathetic nervous system is the system that puts your body in a restful state.
In opposition to this is the sympathetic nervous system that triggers the secretion of
adrenaline and puts you in a more stressed state.
Your nervous system regulates your immune system and keeps inflammation in check.
This means that the more you stimulate the parasympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system, the more you can support your immune health, control stress levels and reduce inflammation.
The Vagus nerve is the biggest and most important nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system.
Stimulating your Vagus nerve helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps and supports healthy immune function.
Just as your car has a gas pedal and brakes, your nervous system has two speeds. The sympathetic fight-or-flight branch automatically helps you accelerate and avoid danger or provides a burst of energy to combat perceived dangers – like stress, injury or infection.
In response to danger, your sympathetic state activates the fight-or-flight response and triggers your body’s immune system to react instantaneously, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline through your body. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and digestion slows or
stops altogether, as blood is routed away from your internal organs toward your limbs in preparation to fight or flee.
Your respiratory rate increases to transport nutrients and oxygen to the cells faster. Your muscles tense and blood vessels in the extremities constrict, sweating increases and if there is an injury or infection, the area becomes inflamed.
Inflammation kicks your immune system into high gear to protect you from more damage so it can heal. During the inflammation process, blood vessels in the area of the damage or infection widen and release more immune system cells into the surrounding tissue.
Inflammation is supposed to be short term. Once the stress, injury or infection has been adequately addressed, your body is designed to shift back into the parasympathetic state of the nervous system, so your body can relax and your immune system shifts back into balance.
Your parasympathetic nervous system counterbalances your sympathetic nervous system by calming and relaxing the body. It slows your heart rate, reduces inflammation and prevents the immune system from overreacting and over responding. Your parasympathetic nervous system TURNS ON your immune processes, allowing your body to fight pathogens, bacteria, fungus, parasites, viruses and infections.
In contrast, your sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system triggers the release of stress hormones that decreases your immune system function to prioritize immediate survival. This reduces your ability to fight off pathogens, making you more susceptible to pathogens and chronic infections. This can create a viscous cycle as chronic infections put you into an inflamed state which further triggers the sympathetic nervous system.
We know how detrimental a overstimulated sympathetic nervous system can be to the body, damaging and depressing immune system.
In the next article we will explore what can bedone to balance your nervous system.
Dr. Marike de Klerk