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Simple Tips to Keep Your Nervous System Healthy
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
I recently worked with a client whose chief complaint was muscle weakness. More specifically, he was concerned with his increasing tendency to drop light objects at work and home. He wasn't a clumsy person by nature, so he found it puzzling that he frequently experienced momentary flashes of grip weakness.
A thorough neurological evaluation was mostly unremarkable. The only noteworthy findings were as follows:
Grip strength was slightly diminished in his right hand when compared with his left hand
Deep tendon reflexes in his upper extremities were sharper than what I would consider to be normal (hyperreflexic)
These findings were not enough to come up with a definitive explanation for his intermittent muscle weakness. However, based on his medical history and the rest of my evaluation, my feeling was that he was experiencing early symptoms of nerve dysfunction.
Aside: My training and experiences have led me to believe that the great majority of cases of muscle weakness are rooted in nerve dysfunction, not in a problem within the affected muscle itself.
Before I describe what I prescribed for my client, for purposes of understanding how to take care of your nervous system, let's take a look at the basics of how your nervous system works.
Whenever you consciously decide to do something with your body -- such as move your eyes across your computer screen to read these words, or click on your mouse as you browse the internet -- your brain generates a signal and sends it down to your spinal cord.
This signal will connect with nerves that begin in your spinal cord and extend out to the body part that you want to move. These outgoing nerves are called peripheral nerves, and in the case of your ability to make conscious movements, your peripheral nerves are responsible for controlling your skeletal muscles.
In order for your peripheral nerves to govern smooth and coordinated movements, your brain and spinal cord need to receive constant feedback on the positioning of the body part that is being moved. This feedback allows your brain and spinal cord to give your peripheral nerves the right amount of "juice" to carry out the desired movement.
To apply all of this information to a real life example, consider the simple act of using a pen to write on paper. Your brain and spinal cord begin by signaling your radial and median nerves to have your hand put the tip of your pen against a sheet of paper. As soon as the tip of your pen contacts the paper, sensory receptors in your writing hand shoot information back to your spinal cord and brain via your radial and median nerves. This feedback is what gives you the awareness to apply enough pressure to make ink flow, but not so much pressure that you tear the paper. This and other types of neural communication go back and forth countless times to allow you to write a legible sentence.
Ultimately, your nervous system is much like the internet - it's a highway for information to travel at a speed that is too fast for most of us to fathom. And just as cable and fiber optic lines need to be maintained to ensure proper transmission of internet data, the highways for your nervous system - your brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves - need to be maintained to ensure optimal health.
How to Promote and Maintain a Healthy Nervous System
1. Ensure optimal nutritional support for your nervous system.
Your brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves are coated with a layer of fat, called myelin, which provides insulation to your nervous system. When myelin is not properly maintained or is eroded by autoimmune illness, you are bound to experience any number of symptoms of nerve dysfunction, common ones being muscle weakness, inexplicable chronic pain, and diminished vision.
In looking to make sure that your body's needs for vitamins D and B12 are met, be sure to understand the differences between synthetic and natural vitamins.
2. Exercise your nervous system on a daily basis.
As explained earlier, the simple act of writing requires that you use all major components of your conscious motor and sensory pathways; a number of different sensory receptors, peripheral nerves, synaptic connections within your spinal cord, major tracts within your spinal cord, and nerve tissue throughout your brain need to be utilized with great precision and coordination to produce neatly written words.
Action Step: One of the best ways of keeping your nervous system fine tuned is to spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day writing on paper as neatly as you can.
Writing with pen on paper is far more effective at exercising your nervous system than writing with a keyboard on a computer, as typing on a keyboard doesn't require as much fine motor control as writing on paper.
An alternative to writing on paper is to draw on paper, as drawing with precision also requires intensive use of all of the major components of your conscious motor and sensory apparatuses.
Getting back to the client that I recently saw for intermittent muscle weakness, within days of following the suggestions mentioned above, he noted a significant improvement in his grip strength. Interestingly, he mentioned that he hadn't written on paper on a regular basis for more than 25 years prior to beginning a daily ritual of writing for 15-30 minutes each evening. He was surprised to find out how much energy was required of his brain and his writing arm to produce neat and coherent sentences.
Clearly, taking optimal care of your nervous system requires that you pay attention to all of your daily choices. The main point of this article is to encourage you to provide optimal nutritional support for your nervous system, and to take up the habit of writing on paper on a regular basis - both of these actions can go a long way toward keeping your nervous system healthy in the years ahead.
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