Supporting Your Immune System - The Connection Between Your Brain and Gut

By: Dr. Fiona Lovely, DC

Recently, a panel of AST experts joined forces to discuss the important topic of immunity. I had the pleasure of sharing the connections between the brain and the gut and below are just a few of my takeaways.

The human immune system is made up (in part) by the 4.4lbs of organisms (100 trillion of them!) which make up the human microflora, or microbiome and cells of the lining of the gut. The health and stability of the microbiome is what you are establishing and feeding when you take your daily probiotic. Think of it like a garden to be cultivated. They are bacteria, parasites, fungi, virus living within us and helping to regulate the system. They even contribute to our DNA, our genetic makeup and our ability to adapt to any environment. Poor diet, stress, chronic disease and antibiotic therapy will diminish or eliminate the bugs of our gut. You must re-seed the garden after antibiotics and it must be inoculated with a high quality probiotic supplement ongoing. I am often asked why it is important to eat organic - remember this, the pesticides, fungicides, etc that are sprayed on our produce are not fruit and vegetable selective! They will kill off your microbiome too.

The health of these systems, the microbiome, your organ reserves and health and your voluntary inputs (nutrition, stress management, exercise, etc.) make up the terrain that dictates how healthy you are. Terrain is the term used to describe the inner environment of a human being.  The health of the terrain explains why some get sick and some do not.

What can you do to help the health of your gut?

Let’s look at stress. When you are experiencing stress, your defences diminish because the brain is sending resources to the stress response system. We are living through one of the most intensely stressful times in our history, so if you are feeling stress, you aren’t alone. Stress is our current way of life, it isn’t going away anytime soon, you cannot control it. But what you can control is your response to something stressful. Are there calming thoughts you can have when something stressful comes up? Can you pause to meditate or incorporate meditation into your daily routine?

Take a closer look at all of the different things that you are consuming daily. News? Negative people? Toxic relationships or stinking thinking? Are you a complainer? Do you engage in drama? All of these things encourage you to have both negative thinking and a survival response. When you are surviving, your blood flow shunts from the extremities to the core organs resulting in your immune system taking a back seat to critical functions.

Here are three things you can start doing today to help with gut health and thus, immunity too:

Healthy mind = healthy brain = healthy gut = healthy immunity = health.

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  

Understanding Pain Sources and How They are Perceived in Your Brain

[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]By: Dr. Corey Finan BSc., DC, CCSP, RMT, ART

I can’t tell you how many patients come into my office complaining of nerve pain, or a pinched nerve feeling, but it is a lot!  Most of the time it turns out they are having nociceptive pain (pain from a nociceptor activation, which is basically a pain fiber in their soft tissue that sends a signal back to the brain that we call “pain”).  Studies estimate that of the thousands of patients that suffer from chronic pain, 20% of them have neuropathic pain.  That leaves the other 80% to be of nociceptive origin.  Unlike nociceptive pain, neuropathic pain does not respond to anti-inflammatories or opioid medications as they are unable address the underlying mechanisms of the neuropathic pain.  To add insult to injury, the underlying mechanisms of neuropathic pain are often vague and hard to determine.

To understand each pain source better, let’s identify each of them.

Nociceptive pain is:

Neuropathic pain is:

As you can see the two are VERY different from one another.  Most people who come in to our clinic, and really any walk-in clinic will be typically presenting with nociceptive pain.  Neuropathic pain leads people to believe something drastic is going on with them, and they seek emergency medical attention.  Once they go through the battery of tests that show their pain is neurogenic and not something worse, they will come in for care.  Both types of pain can be treated conservatively, and both respond well to care.  Nociceptive pain can be further broken down by the tissue that is causing the pain.  Muscle pain is different than tendon pain, which is different than ligament pain and bone pain is different as well.  Muscle pain is often achy if it is tight or fatigued (overused), while ligament pain is very sharp.  Tendon pain can be a combination of sharp and achy depending on the reason it is sore.  Bone pain is often described as a “deep achy pain”.  Some nociceptive pain can be a sort of phantom pain, where the pain is felt in one part of the body (say along the outside of the knee or lower leg), but is generated by a trigger point in the hip.  Working on the knee and lower leg WILL NOT help this type of pain, ONLY working on the trigger point in the hip will resolve the leg pain.

This raises another important point in understanding pain, and that is understanding the timing of the pain.

When does it hurt?

Neurogenic / Neuropathic pain is generally a constant pain (the nerve fiber is constantly irritated, thus sending off constant pain signals to the brain), while nociceptive pain often comes and goes.  Sometimes the pain is present at rest, consistent with tightness in the muscles that when not being used, and therefore lacking blood flow and warmth will tighten.  This tightening leads to a pulling of the tendon where it attaches to the bone.  This will lead to an achy sensation at the tendon-bone interface.  This is a common presentation of patellofemoral syndrome, where the quadriceps gets tight through activity, but while using it, it becomes more pliable and does not cause pain.  Once activity is complete, blood flow through the muscle diminishes, and the muscle begins to tighten (shorten), causing a pull at the tendon-bone interface again, leading to that achy pain down at the knee cap, or at the tibial tuberosity where the patellar tendon attaches.  This is basically what patellofemoral syndrome is.

The emotional side of pain...

Most people think pain is simply a physiological phenomenon.  It is however a multi-factorial collection of several ongoing processes including, but not limited to, contextual, psychological, and socio-cultural factors.  What this means for the average pain sufferer is that not all pain is the same person-to-person.  A stubbed toe for you may feel like a 2 out of 10 achy pain, while for another person it could feel like an 8 out of 10 excruciating pain.  This interpretation of the pain level often has an emotional component to it, and may be influenced by emotional scars from childhood, or other experiences in your life.  We all know people who have an unexplained fear of things such as spiders, snakes, thunderstorms, etc., these people have been primed emotionally to fear such things because of prior experiences or hearing about tragedies involving whatever it is they fear.  This is an emotional tag placed on the object they fear.  They associate whatever they are afraid of with something bad that could happen to them (a spider bite, getting struck by lightening, etc.), and so they have a heightened sense of fear around those things.  The same can work with pain.  People have an eversion to pain.  I’ve been working on patient’s dry needling them, and they burst into tears, not due to pain from the treatment, but rather from the fear of the needles.  When I ask them if it is painful they deny that it is, and they often cannot explain why they are crying.  They just are afraid of the needle damaging them.  They are almost paralyzed with fear, while another person can carry on a conversation with me as if we were sitting having coffee instead of me inserting dry needles into them.  Our experiences in life shape how we perceive things, and it is no different with pain.  Perception of pain is really what we are looking at here, not just pain.

So, what is the takeaway?

There are many faces to pain.  We all suffer from pain at one point in our life, usually we get over the pain, sometimes it lingers.  No matter what the cause, pain is usually and end stage of damage to tissues, and is the body’s “smoke detector” telling us there is a fire.  We can use the pain to guide our activities and avoid doing further damage to the tissue, or we can take pain meds to decrease the pain.  This is like taking the batteries out of the smoke detector in order to stop the alarm going off.  However, the fire is still there.  Naturally, it is important for everyone to find their comfort level, and do what you feel is important for yourself.

If you are unsure what is causing your pain, it is important to seek out professional advice from a musculoskeletal specialist to get a proper assessment and figure out exactly where the pain is coming from, and the most effective way to treat your particular pain.

At AST we are experts in musculoskeletal pain, and can take care of any pain you present with, be it acute, chronic, of unknown origin, and unrelenting.  We are here to help, and happy to do so.

If you are in pain and want to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to help, please call to book in today.

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Natural Things You Can Do to Calm Your Nervous System

[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]Dr. Fiona Lovely, Chiropractor

Practitioner of Functional Neurology and Functional Medicine at AST

We live in a world where we are bombarded with information, in multiple ways, every second of every day.  Many people aren’t aware just how stressful to our brain and nerve systems this bombardment can be.  Frankly, we have yet to adapt to this unique kind of stress and it can leave us feeling depleted and overstimulated.

Email.  Social media.  Text messages. And the occasional relic - voicemail. Screens of all sorts are pervasive. While we revel in being connected, we must recognize that it means our brain needs to process this information. So, when you hear how you must reduce stress in order to be healthy, know that screen use is a big part of modern-day stress. This is on top of job, family, mental health, money, relationship etc.

The fight-flight-freeze part of our nerve system - the sympathetic division, is the part that senses stress. We can feel wired, exhausted and struggle to get a good night’s sleep. We might never feel well rested. We lose productivity during the day and feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

It isn’t all bad news - there are some quick fixes for this hyper-vigilance and unwell feeling that stress can cause. 

  1. Limit your screen time. Your phone likely has a timer which can tell you just how many hours a week you are spending looking at it. That can be a real eye opener! What would you be able to accomplish if you limited that time to an hour a day? All in - messaging, calls, emails, social media.
  2. Get a restful sleep. No blue-light (anything with a screen) for at least an hour before bedtime. Pick a regular bedtime and stick to it, even on the weekend. A helpful guideline: the more hours of sleep you get before midnight, the more rested you will be. You can also take Magnesium Glycinate at bedtime to help you relax, but of course, check with your doctor before starting anything new.
  3. Studies show the brain does best with 20 minutes per day of activity. One easy way to incorporate this is to do high intensity bursts of activity for 2-4 minutes, then lower rates of movement to recover. Repeat the process until you've reached the goal. This increases the release of the chemicals which encourage and strengthen connection between neurons as well as the endorphin release - the chemicals which make you feel relaxed and happy.
  4. Meditate. This doesn’t need to be fancy - listening to relaxing music or taking 5 deep breaths is considered meditative. Pause, in quiet, allows a network in our brains which needs space to work through things and store memories, to go to work. This is called the Default Network Mode and it’s critical to our brain health and overall well-being and calm.
  5. Acknowledge trauma and get help. There is much ado at the moment about the role of past trauma and how it continues to affect the stress response systems of the brain. Trauma can be defined as any experience which made you feel unsafe and to which you developed adaptations to make you feel safe. Under this definition, we can see that all of us have experienced trauma. This lingers in your system and amps the nervous system into a perpetual state of fight-flight or freeze. Reach out and talk to a mental health professional if you think you could use help in this area. A skilled practitioner - chiropractor, registered massage therapist, or physiotherapist can help you move through the physical effects of the trauma in a safe environment too.

Calm is not just a state of mind but a physical place too. Work to change a few things in your current lifestyle to invite in peace. Your brain will thank you for it!

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]